I Hate it When I’m Right

Written by Jill Chapin. Posted in Culture, Opinion

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Published on February 29, 2012 with 2 Comments

By Jill Chapin

February 29, 2012

There are times you just hope you are wrong. Several years ago, I warned about parents needing to get more involved in their children’s lives, but it was not heard by enough people, whose voices just might have been able to prevent the recent murders of students at a school in Ohio.

Where do kids get guns? They get them from home. This is apparently what happened in Chardon, Ohio where seventeen year-old T.J. Lane told authorities he stole a gun from his uncle who lives on Lane’s property. An American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) survey showed that about one third of households with children have at least one gun. Yet 43 percent admitted to keeping them in an unlocked place. So when a child or teen wants lethal revenge and works a plan to carry it out, they apparently can arm themselves right at home, under the unwatchful eyes of their parents, who always insist that they had no idea such madness was brewing down the hall.

I believe them. I believe that far too many parents are clueless about their children’s lives, either too uncaring or too naive or too busy or too trusting to take the time to connect with their children. Whatever their reasons, a survey taken several years ago revealed unequivocally that there is a huge disconnect between what kids are doing and what parents think they are doing.

An example was a Time magazine survey showing that 50 percent of 12 to 17-year-olds admitted that drugs and/or alcohol are readily available at their parties. Yet 80 percent of parents responded that they do not believe that alcohol or marijuana are available at their teenagers’ social gatherings.

Don’t just read this. Share it with your kids and ask them how much of this is true. Then maybe Time magazine will retake that survey and find a few more parents who actually know what’s going on in the lives of their children down the hall.

Because you really do learn a lot when you talk with kids. I discovered a rather disheartening reason why too many of them are feeling disconnected, and why schools are increasingly facing a losing battle, because for too many youngsters, whatever is being taught at school is either not being reinforced at home, or worse, is being undone altogether.

Parents frequently complain about their child’s teachers, blaming them for a lack of communication in alerting them when their kids aren’t doing well in school. They accuse teachers of not giving their students enough time and attention, of not clearly outlining goals and expectations.

Yet how many parents really talk with their kids? How many ask, not a dead end question, like “How was your day?” but something more substantial like, “What was the best part of your day and what was the worst?” Questions like these, and the conversations that may follow, are usually best held around a dinner table, with a captive audience and a common need to eat. Yet, regrettably, the family dinner-hour is fast becoming a disappearing act. Why?

The usual excuses run from there being only one parent in the picture, to mom and/or dad working late, traveling, having meetings, etc. Kids have soccer, piano, dance – you name it – and time is tight.

These excuses are unsettling enough because conversational time with our children should be one of our top priorities. But I discovered something really discouraging when casually gabbing with teenagers about their dining habits.

I discovered that families increasingly are not eating together, but not because of the above-mentioned reasons. Sadly, there are far too many households with two parents at home with their children, at the same time, who eat dinner at the same time – but in different rooms!

Conjuring up that image evokes a hauntingly lonely, isolated existence where children are just down the hall from living like an integrated family and yet are light years away from actually doing so.

I read an article describing how kitchen designers, aware of the disintegrating family dinner-hour, are accommodating homeowners with designs that eliminate the table altogether, substituting the counter and great rooms for more casual, fluid eating spaces. What this floor plan does is erase the best place for face-to-face alignment that fosters more intimate conversations, and where the rituals of politeness are learned.

Filling that void are etiquette consultants who teach appropriate dinner-table behavior to children. A mother of three daughters who took these classes opined that her kids needed to learn things such as how to greet people, how to make small talk, etc, so that they can feel comfortable in social situations. But how can her kids practice these newly learned table manners if there is no table time in her own home? And just how many more things are parents willing to outsource to professionals before parenthood is virtually rendered obsolete?

If we continue to plow money and resources into school reform, knowing that our children are living parallel lives with their own parents, why are we spinning our wheels if we can’t candidly address the issue of parental responsibility in the education equation? Abdicating precious time they could be sharing with their kids around the dinner table should raise questions. If parents are unwilling to give their own children – both literally and figuratively – the time of day, just how committed are those parents to their child’s success?

Are parents so wrapped up in their daily routine that they don’t realize that passing by each other as everyone goes from room to room, never to meet up at a regular time every day could be a major reason why kids are more into drugs, sex, theft and violence than school?

Yet these parents don’t have a clue that any of this is going on, which is not surprising in light of their lack of familial interface. Can we then better understand these kids, who must figure that if their own parents don’t much care to talk with them, they probably also don’t care what they do in their ever-increasing free time?

Maybe I’m all wrong. Why don’t you talk with your kids and see for yourself.

Jill Chapin

Jill Chapin

Jill Chapin has been a guest writer and columnist in several Los Angeles area papers for over fifteen years. She has written a bilingual parenting book titled, "If You Have Kids, Then Be a Parent!" and a children's book entitled, "My Magic Bubble."

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2 Comments

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  1. Daniele E.

    This quote kinda sums it up in a poetic way:

    Someday, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love. Then for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.

    —Pierre Teilhard Chardin

  2. Daniele E.

    Painful article to read. Guns, and no dining room table. What is up, America?
    It’s a fast-food nation, and violence gets top-billing.

    I keep advocating for nonviolence training being taught in our schools. Oakland already does it, i hear. But i hope it gets implemented everywhere, because once you learn about dealing with conflict in loving ways, once you learn meditation and understand how your own mind works, you are not likely to resort to violence. You are not likely to “get out of control”.

    Yes, being a parent is a big responsibility. I’m not one, but I can only imagine. You really oughtta have your sh*t together. But if we don’t teach each other how to get one’s sh*t together, the cycle continues.

    Gotta start with the children, who, like that song said, will turn into mothers and fathers. It’s really that simple. But we are a nation founded on violence. Guess that is a tough groove to undo. But I’ll keep lending my voice to this other way. When people start to see the power/strength in nonviolence/compassion, it’ll be a new day. It’s something you learn. If you don’t learn it, you’re at the mercy of this violent culture of ours.

    Nonviolent communication, as taught by Marshall Rosenberg (google it), has connection and empathy at its core. Meditation is all about slowing down, being in the present moment. My guess is you’d need this skill all the more as a busy parent. Also as a teacher. But really, when it gets down to it, we all need it to live better lives—quality lives. More peaceful and fulfilling lives.

    But it takes responsibility to change. We are a young nation, but I think it’s about time we grew up a little–i’m tired of hearing about school shootings when i know solutions exist.

    I feel for these kids…And I hope those who are in positions to do something about it (um, that’s all of us, really) speak out for peace…but in order to do that effectively, you have to know what peace is–at its core. So…happy learning. It’s all out there.