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Educated Parenting Is Preventive Medicine

May 15, 1988|THOMAS J. GIBBS JR. | Thomas J. Gibbs Jr. is a marriage, family and child counselor in Los Angeles.

The solution to the ever-increasing gang warfare and the proliferation of drugs does not lie in stricter or stronger law enforcement. The Los Angeles Police Department's recent gang roundup can be likened to putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg.

Unfortunately, solving the problem is much more complicated than putting the gang leaders and the pushers away for a few hours or days. Not even prison sentences will do much to alleviate the hold on many of today's alienated youth.

So where does the answer lie? After working in two juvenile diversion projects as well as in private counseling with youth as a marriage, family and child counselor for the past 12 years, some answers seem apparent. In all, I have counseled some 500 juveniles and their parents. Large numbers of these clients have had gang or drug problems. Others shoplifted, ditched school, ran away from home or abused alcohol.

I have discovered again and again that 90% of these problems can be attributed to inept parenting, or in some cases little or no parental supervision.

Only in rare cases in our culture do we require any training or counseling in the area of marriage and family life. The one exception that I know of is mandatory counseling for underage youth about to be married. Under the laws that govern the required counseling, there is no mention of the number of sessions or time spent in each session. Fortunately, however, many ministers and counselors have stricter requirements and insist on four to six sessions of an hour each.

In the most important venture of life--marriage and family living--our society does not require any preparation. Let me cite an example of inept parenting repeated far too often.

Several years ago I was asked to counsel a 13-year-old boy for robbing a soda pop machine. His parents were divorced and the boy and his 11-year-old brother lived with their father.

The father spent the night before Easter at his girlfriend's house. He promised his sons that he would be home to take them out for Easter dinner. As the boys later told me, "We waited all day for Dad. Finally about 9 p.m. we fixed something to eat and went to bed."

We teach our children mathematics, reading, biology, the facts of procreation and almost anything else--except how to raise, discipline, guide, train, teach values to and serve as a role model for their children.

President Woodrow Wilson, while head of Harvard University, was once asked by irate parents, "Why aren't you making more of our children?"

"Because," he said, "they are your children."

I choose to believe, by virtue of experience, that we will never forcefully deal with gangs or drugs until we get better parenting.

As a minimum, I would suggest that Every couple of childbearing age filing for a marriage license be required to undergo a rigorous program of indoctrination in marriage and family life. The same program should be required for new step-parents of under-age youth;

Such courses should include parent-effectiveness training, teachings in values, role-modeling, sex education and communication.

More legislative attention also must be given to after-school programming for today's latch-key children through age 12.

What I propose would be costly and its results necessarily long-term. Nevertheless, I believe that effective, educated parenting is the only sure way to combat gangs and other youth-related crises that are out of control.

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