Since the Littleton massacre, political leaders, academics, and entertainment figures have been scurrying to and fro to find The Cause behind such tragedies and promise a Solution. Brandishing reams of polling data and hot-off-the-press studies, Congress heroically marshals gun-control legislation, President Clinton denounces violent films, Vice President Gore blasts Internet perversities, and Rosie O'Donnell presses for gun control. Radio abounds with special reports on how Doom, Kingpin, and Marilyn Manson are winning the battle for our children's souls. Washington-Hollywood-New York-somebody has to take responsibility for this horrific mess and get us out of it, and the expert elite is feverishly crafting solutions for us. But when the dust settles, will our children be better off? The experts assure us that our kids will find it harder to get guns, surf onto macabre web sites, and watch violent movies. But underlying this post-Littleton frenzy is the belief that parents are, by some natural law, separated from their teen children by a monstrous gap in age, interests, and values. To think that parents should take the lead in raising children to be responsible adults has become passé. Typifying this fatalism is Judith Rich Harris's controversial 1998 book, The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Mm Out the Way They Do: Parents Matter Less Than You Think and Peers Matter More. Parents, the idea goes? do not shape their children's values and habits-peer pressure is just too strong. Defenders of this thesis consider it a previously unknown natural law, but it is nothing of the kind. It is merely a result of the disrupted family unit many Americans now consider normal.
The expert elite has embraced this conveniently cynical position, which is why its response to Littleton has been so predictable. Because parents cannot cultivate character in their children, responsible parenting entails either policing kids or "respecting their space" by remaining silent on matters of principle and value. In short, parents can be authoritarian or egalitarian, or both in alternating fashion. Such an approach, however, is utterly alien to the American tradition. One of the greatest differences Toqueville noted between his fellow Europeans and the Americans he observed in 1831 was the American regard for the home as the wellspring of public character. - In Europe, he claimed, "almost all the disturbances of society arise from the irregularities" of life in the home. "The American," by contrast, "derives from his own home that love of order which he afterwards carries with him into public affairs."
|Doreen and John Tomlin hug wellwishers before the funeral of their son, John Robert Tomlin, in Waterford, Wis. Tomlin was killed in the library at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.|
That has changed radically, as anyone can see. Too few American homes today teach self-confidence, deference, benevolence, integrity, responsibility, and compassion. Too few parents listen to their children, improve their own character, enforce household rules, apologize for mistakes, and make the moral life a journey they share with their kids. Too many parents leave the cultivation of character to a society that insists that it has no business imposing morality on people, even children. Parents struggling to provide moral leadership need help. Responsible parents consult friends, churches, local family-service agencies, and extended family for help in building a mutual bond of love and respect with their children. Unfortunately, our cultural fatalism about parents' ability to overcome outside influences on their children saps parents' confidence and discourages them from seeking help. Since Columbine, not one prominent national leader has forcefully advocated strengthening the organizations and institutions that help parents raise children of sound heart and mind.