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DANA PARSONS

Importance of Being Earnest About Kids

October 23, 1998|DANA PARSONS

Writing recently about two Orange County teenagers in the soup for school-related indiscretions, I offered pithy and irrefutable observations as to the proper resolution.

Imagine my surprise when a number of parents and students saw things differently. I fielded the calls and chatted with a few dissenters, but none of them backed me off my position that, in both cases, the students' punishment was too severe.

Disagreement, I can handle. In this job, it goes with the territory.

One stinger stayed in me, though. It was a phone message from a man who said that inasmuch as I don't have children, I'm not qualified to spout off on how they should be handled. The gist of his message was that, until I've been there and done that, I can neither grasp the difficulties of raising kids nor comment meaningfully on how to discipline them.

That's one of the problems with regular readers. They know too much about me.

This would be a great time, ladies and gentlemen, to introduce my son and daughter, ages 19 and 16, whom I haven't gotten around to writing about for the past eight years.

Alas, they don't exist, and I must concede the caller's point that I'm a columnist without portfolio when it comes to offspring.

If I thought he was just being catty, I'd dismiss his criticism. I sensed in his voice, though, that he was making an earnest point. What he meant was, "You don't know what you're talking about."

So, now that someone has thrown down the gauntlet, how about it? Do people like me have anything valid to say about child management? And how about you other childless adults out there, so smug with your two cents' worth? Do you have an opinion worth airing when it comes to handling today's young people?

I'll begin my counteroffensive with a defensive move. No, I don't pretend to be an expert on child-rearing or child-anything. I changed my last diaper at 10, and the foul rag was my baby brother's. The only time I get up in the middle of the night is to answer the call of nature, not a baby. I've never had to sit a 14-year-old daughter down and explain why she can't date the 23-year-old dropout from up the block.

I haven't been there or done any of that, but neither am I an extraterrestrial. I have siblings with children, I have friends with children, with the point being that I've had countless conversations with them about raising children. I'm not being glib when I call it life's toughest job.

More to the point, if I do say so, is that I'm interested in their children. If only as a citizen of the planet, I care what happens to young people. Not knowing first-hand how vexing or delightful they can be doesn't mean I haven't given lots of thought to how I'd like to see children grow up. It doesn't mean I have to sit on my hands when I think other adults treat them wrongly.

Yet I can't totally dismiss the argument about experience. Indeed, I've questioned in past columns about unmarried, childless Social Services workers conducting parenting classes. What in the heck do they know about parenting, I have asked.

Therein lies the rub: What's experience worth when it comes to opining intelligently about something?

In TV sports broadcasting, former players or coaches get hired instead of nonplaying broadcasting school graduates. The Times even let a former umpire write a column during the World Series, and he lost no time in supporting the men in blue and taking shots at broadcasters--including former players--who criticized the umps.

I suppose my caller--just like the column-writing ump--would argue that we should all walk a mile in their shoes before sounding off.

But does that argument really hold up?

Priests come to mind. I'm not Catholic, but I've always thought of priests as wise and kind-hearted counsels. Should they be excluded from giving marriage or child-rearing advice for lack of experience? I think not.

Should the rest of us, who consider ourselves wise and kind, be left out of all child-rearing debates? I hope not.

Very few parents admit to being clueless. Most of them think they know more about children than those of us without any.

Meanwhile, those of us without children look at some parents and think, sheesh, it would be impossible to do a worse job raising a child. As Jesse Jackson used to tell teenage boys, anyone can make a baby, but it takes someone of quality to raise a child.

On that, and perhaps only on that, we can probably all agree.

To my caller's consternation, I won't stop opining occasionally on how we should raise our kids. I would only remind him that, much more than he realizes, I know what I say is only an opinion. One guy's point of view.

The alternative is for me to write only on subjects about which I am expert.

That leads to an even more troubling scenario: How many columns could people stand about a guy on a sofa watching television?

*

Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at the Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail to dana.parsons@latimes.com

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