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Child Killers: Exaggerated?

March 13, 1988

Jock Hearne's admirable review of "High Risk: Children Without a Conscience," sketches the causes and intractability of a horrible problem. In laymen's terms, the number of almost incurably abusive, crooked people is rising in our society and elsewhere, and can be expected to keep on rising. The chief direct cause is "failure of bonding," a catch-all term meaning what happens when babies and children are brought up by people unable to love them and care for them properly. The lesser, indirect causes are partly economic: Mothers must work and cannot pay for good child care. But they lie elsewhere, too. Most new parents have grown up with almost no experience with babies or young children, let alone the experience of watching people who really know how to love and care for them going about it.

Anyone who has brought up several children will tell you of dismal mistakes made with the first child, fewer and different mistakes with the second, and comparative success thereafter (up to the point where there were so many children with potential difficulties that should have been attended to were instead neglected, which is a different problem). We are now producing mostly first children, some second, and very few others. It is no wonder we are seeing more and more trouble. And I suspect that very few of the trained experts in child care who try to prevent and correct it are in a class with the ordinary parents of a couple of generations back: skillful, easy-going and quick in dealing with almost anything that came up, simply because they had seen similarly accomplished people doing it--and had been brought up by them.

There are still some people like that--mostly grandparents. Psychologists and psychiatrists should be seeking them out, trying to capture what must be skills that have evolved over thousands of generations and are now vanishing.

FRANCES WEISMILLER

SANTA BARBARA

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