Thursday, April 22, 2004

Not an anniversary to remember 

I intentionally did not blog on the 5th Anniversary of the Columbine Tragedy yesterday. I watched some coverage, some interviews with survivors and family members of victims, and a few retrospective pieces.

I have to say this to clear my mind. THE ANSWER TO COLUMBINE IS BETTER PARENTING and NOT gun laws, bully abatement programming, security guards, metal detectors, school social workers, or any of the several thousand other proposed solutions. Those boys and the many others who acted with violence were failed at home. As a society, we keep asking what the government, school, police, and church could have done to change it. There are programs, some with impact. But the inoculation from school violence rests in the home where the problem begins. I have been participating in local schools and am stunned at the lack of academic focus. The walls are littered with self-esteem programming and the reading lesson is almost cluttered away on the board. Now we will have half-literate citizens dealing with violence.

We are heading half-heartedly in the wrong direction from the wrong starting point after the wrong goal.

An idea: a Sunday School classmate of mine at a former church actively kept his two boys out of violence and general mischief. How did he doe this? He gave up his career. ????? He was the assistant coach of the baseball program at the university in town. The veteran coach was close to retiring and my friend was the heir apparent. He had done everything conceivable to lock down the position. He was in with the alumni and boosters, had guided a building program for the stadium, and secured top tier players. The job was his. Then, he sat down with his wife when they were expecting their second child. They looked at life (a hard thing to do). As coach, he would spend at least 1/3 of his weekends at the stadium or on the road. He would spend another 1/3 of his weekends recruiting players. He would spend most nights during the season at the stadium or on the road. He would have to attend every request to speak at the Rotary-Lions-Kiwanis-Moose-Optimist-Mason Lodge. On Sunday mornings, he would have to tape the sports show and post-game interviews. In short, he would be an absent father. He prayed about it. He slept on it. And HE WALKED AWAY FROM THE ONLY CAREER HE HAD AND THE PASSION OF HIS LIFE ONLY FOR HIS CHILDREN. I had the two boys in our preschool program. They were courteous and respectful, yet full of life. The father got a job running a cement plant. He had to be at work sometimes as earlier as 4am, but he was always at home at night and could watch his sons play little league.

Do you think for a mili-second that any of the parents of the shooters have a record of devotion to family and sacrifice? How can the government, schools, social services, and church possibly replace the positive impact of a devoted father and mother?

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Fake News Aplenty Revisited 

If you read Fake News Aplenty or FNA Part II, then you should read this by Catherine Seipp on NRO. If you read her article, you should reread the fake news posts with a closer perspective to my thoughts.


Poor Kids & PE 

I thought of this article when I wrote this earlier. I was reminded of the issue when I drove past the local elementary school this morning on my way to work. A group of children (I would guess 5th graders) had just been sent running on the paved trail around the playground. One of the slimmer, taller boys was leading the pack. Most of the children were barely running and quite a few were not running whatsoever. One of the nonrunners was a member of my church. I will speak with her grandmother on Wednesday night.

Bigger point. Having been a supervisor of pre-interns in the local public schools, volunteered as a mentor in this particular school, and currently conducting research in four of the local elementary schools; I am quite certain that the activity I witnessed is PE. Not that it should be called physical education, but that is what the activity is being labeled by the public schools. Does it matter?

Take this test. Compare a class photo of children from a school in a poor neighborhood with a corresponding photo of children from a more affluent neighborhood. Ignore the type and style of clothing. Get beyond impressions and look for these details: 1) how many children need a haircut, have poorly kept hair, or hair is dull and without shine (indication of malnutrition) 2) how many children have clothing that does not fit due to growth (not style) 3) how many children are skinny, overweight, fat, or obese 4) how many children have bad teeth or lack braces when the need is apparent. After you count the numbers of children, notice which photograph has the most children identified by the four characteristics.

Does it matter? One of the most simple and straight-forward policy implications presented in an undergraduate child development text is that interventions have MORE effect in poor populations than more affluent populations. An afterschool program in a poor neighborhood will help send children to college that would otherwise have ended up in prison or working a manual labor job. An afterschool program in a middle-class neighborhood is more than likely not the deciding factor in outcomes for children. A school breakfast program in a school in a poor neighborhood could raise the level of learning by starting the day with food for many children. A school breakfast program in a middle-class neighborhood is most likely unnecessary.

If we re-read the article above, we can see that programs targeting health can work in school children. The rub is that the programs must TARGET health. Each child should have some goals. Sweat should be evoked. I spoke with a 3rd grade teacher yesterday. He thought the best moment of the school year for his class was their continued domination of the 3rd grade kickball tournament. Kickball is a $12-a-year expenditure for a school system. Yet, for 3rd graders, it is appropriate. The classes at the school are small enough (13-18 per class) that all children can be actively involved. I have no idea what the PE teacher was hoping for when she sent the 5th graders running around the trail this morning. I know that most of the class quit running before reaching the first turn. The damning part of the argument is that the children are in one of the poor schools and would benefit the most from a good PE program. But sending them running is not the way to achieve that goal in young children. The final point in this rant would be that young children need adults to organize and supervise play-exercise-physical education in a manner that is appropriate to the age of the child and the needs of the population. We do not need PE teachers to send kids running with no goal in mind.

Monday, April 19, 2004

It Might Be Time to Talk To Your Children - II 

In the post below titled It Might Be Time to Talk to Your Children, Bryan presents the story of a 17-year-old who attempts to hire a hitman to kill his mother, but not damage the family's TV. Bryan urges parents to talk with their children when they are young. The hope is that the biblical principle of raising a child up in the ways of righteousness and having a less troubled adulthood will follow.

The story here is similar in the lack of parental attention to the matter before a negative outcome occurred. The son was killed after driving his girlfriend's car into a telephone pole at 90mph. The mother has decided to sue Coors for glorifying a culture of youth, sex and glamour while hiding the dangers of alcohol abuse and addiction and is suing the girlfriend and her mother because the girlfriend allowed Pisco, who lacked a valid driver's license, to drive off in her car, which had been given to her by her mother.

The lawsuit would matter if you believed the son watched a commercial for Coors beer, suddenly went on a drinking binge, the girlfriend knew he did not have a valid driver's license, and he died as a result of driving drunk. It is a possible scenario, but not one that is plausible or likely. I would be willing to guess that the young man had a history of problems (both school and family), did not have a close relationship with his mother or a relationship that was troubled, and had several close calls with alcohol before the deadly accident. Why did a 19-year-old man not have a valid driver's license? Why is the lawsuit brought by his mother and not his parents?

One of the difficult challenges in parenting is starting over. If you have not attended to your child as development dictates, then you not only have to make-up for lost time, but you must correct problems that have occurred while you were inattentive. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You must spend time with your young child. And the time must be devoted to you and the child. If a child does not feel accepted and loved by a parent, no amount of punishment will ever be enough to correct behavior. Dr. Joe Olmi in the school psychology program at the University of Southern Mississippi called his program Time In. Unprovoked touching, compliments for acceptable behavior, time spent observing, and even tones in the adult voice. The impact is that the child craves positive attention from the adult. The result is that negative incidents have less intensity and are much easier to resolve. I had great success with this approach as a child care director. The children actively sought out recognition from me. If I only pronounced their name backwards, it was a positive moment. When I later had to deal with the child, they were much more prone to respond because there was no positive regard in my voice until he/she had made amends for his/her behavior.

The hinge is that this approach takes time. I had to pull a lot of ears, tickle a lot of elbows, pat a lot of shoulders, and pronounce a lot of names backward (hint: for Hannah, you have to move your head side-to-side to get the effect of backward pronunciation). As the children found that I had positive regard for them, they responded far more quickly to my guidance. My furrowed brow could evoke tears in the most defiant child after a year of time in.

In the case above, are we to believe that the mother had active communication with the child? Had he not died but arrived home safely, are we to believe that he would be ashamed of his actions when his mother became aware? Did he think for a second "I hope mom doesn't find out?"

The time to talk to your child is now.

V-chip is not the answer 

This is neither a good idea or a bad idea. It is not really helpful to just mute bad words but it is better than having a child listen to them.

On a side note, my wife and I both laughed out loud when we caught a clip of the third Die Hard movie. It was an edited version for family viewing and Samuel E. Jackson's character said 'mellon-farmer' instead of the particular obscenity that would only fit behind the word mellon-farmer.

Look, technology is not the answer. The answer is for parents to monitor the media to which their child is exposed. As I have pointed out earlier, parents must put in time actively being a parent. Yes, it is difficult. Yes, I know about the demands of daily life. Yes, there are sacrifices. YOU MUST BE ACTIVELY PARENTING. Kids are not dumb. They can figure a way to defeat technology and they can figure out what word mellon-farmer covers. Our daughter, Emily, does not get to watch any program that has to disguise words. It is not appropriate as to content. Julie, my wife, and I make certain of this by monitoring any program Emily is allowed to view. We also remind one another about programs that we as adults would view that may be inappropriate for Emily. Julie just got me the DVD set of Band of Brothers. She also reminded me that Emily must not be present when I watch them. No technology required.

Also, the added burden of expense will make the technology unavailable for the poor families. A poor child goes to juvenile detention while an affluent child goes to residential treatment.

We should quit looking of tech fixes and start training and reminding parents to take time to monitor their child's viewing.

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