Where Are the Parents?

Being There May Make All the Difference

The traumatic shock resulted from the tragedy has made sure that we remember this surreal day of January 8, 2011. On this peaceful Saturday morning under the brilliant Arizona sun, as Time magazine reports, a taxicab pulled into the parking lot of a Tucson strip mall, and out came a crazed young man named Jared Loughner with a Glock 19 pistol. Within fifteen seconds and after 31 bullets, six people lay dead and 13 would have to fight for their lives.

Among the victims were nine-year old girl Christina Green, who just wanted to grow up “so bad” before she lost her life, and congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was the actual intended target and gravely wounded in the head.

Saddened, angry and perhaps overwhelmed, people are still trying to make sense of this senseless act of violence. And a lot of fingers started pointing each and every way.

Some political pundits are quick to blame the guns and the irony that a mad man can easily buy one in a store but a ordinary mom can’t bring a bottle of baby formula onto an airplane. Others decry extreme rhetoric that has been poisoning the political atmosphere and in the process might have finally pushed the troubled young man over the edge. But the psychiatric experts would argue that there is no way political rhetoric alone would cause a mentally ill person to commit violence.

Each camp appears to have done a convincing job making their points, but amidst all those back-and-forth debates, no one seems to want to ask, at least in public: Where were the parents before the seemingly normal young man turned into a killer?

This is a very sensitive topic; and at this difficult time, out of respect, even the normally aggressive news media are unwilling to press the “distraught” elder Loughners for answers, and rightly leave them alone. No one is in the position to pass judgment on them, nor should anyone. Let ‘s just simply step back and take a look at what we know so far.

Like most kids, Jared “was a nice, friendly boy, tooting his saxophone in the school band”, or even “a little nerdy”, as Time describes. Then he changed in his mid-teens, started drinking heavily and doing drugs, lost touch with friends and eventually dropped out of school. At this point, experts point out, Jared was already showing signs of mental illness.

This kid’s descent might have been gradual and happened over a long period of time, but it must have been obvious enough for anyone around him every day to realize. If he lives at home, normally a child’s parents should be able to notice things change about him. But was this the case with Jared’s family? Were his parents with him often enough to actually detect the changes in Jared’s behavior? What if they were able to talk things over? Perhaps they could go to a doctor, or seek counseling. Would that have helped?

By the time he turned twenty, Jared’s mental disorder had deteriorated to such a state that he established bizarre beliefs. Through his own distorted lenses, he saw a crooked world that was out to victimize him. And he decided to “fix it”. His behavior frightened his classmates so much that his community college had to ask him to stay out until he could produce a letter from a mental-health professional certifying that he was fit to return. Of course, as we now know it, he bought a gun instead.

We missed another golden opportunity to save Jared and his potential victims here. If only someone, especially his loved ones were able to heed the demand of the community college and bring him to a mental-health professional, Jared would have been correctly diagnosed and provided with proper treatments – perhaps through medications and even mental institution. Unfortunately, this never happened. Once again, the question arises: Where were the parents?

In this country individualism and independence are so highly regarded and encouraged that youngsters are often left on their own at an early age in the name of  “finding themselves”. Or many parents are just “too busy” to spend time with their kids.

Have you ever seen how a gardener plants a tree? He would find a suitable spot, dig a hole of the proper size, lay the tree in, provide enough planting soil, fertilizer and water and cover the area with mulch. Before leaving, he always makes sure to spike in two or three stakes and tether them together with the young tree! He does this because he realizes that without the support, this young life is not going to stand the elements and may not even survive the first storm it faces.

Raising a child is not much different from growing a tree. You obviously have to provide him with food and shelter, but that’s not going to be sufficient for him to live and grow up in a healthy way in this increasingly complicated and challenging environment. He needs continued support, just like a young tree needs regular watering. Just as important, he needs guidance and discipline. Temporarily tying the tree down is not going to restrict its growth; and doing some hand-holding and letting your child know the right from wrong can prevent him from going astray and help him become an asset for the society.

It’s enviable that you work for Goldman Sachs and are able to afford a 6,000-feet Mac Mansion, give your boy a gleaming BMW as soon as he got his license and throw in a iPhone G4 by the way. But are you there when he has a math problem, was hurt in a football game, or got in a fight with some bully at school?  A random stranger can provide your children with some kind of room and board, but only you the parent can give them the support and guidance that they sorely need for life.

We’ve seen this scene too often on television: A young person had got in trouble with the law and his mother weeps in front of the camera: “…He was such a good boy…couldn’t have done this…” It makes me cringe whenever I see this. Hello! This is your child; you didn’t know he dropped out of school? All these years when he was doing drugs and involved with the gangs, where were you?

Fox Channel 5 in New York has the right idea starting its evening news broadcast with this question: “It’s ten PM; do you know where your children are?”  You don’t have to be your children’s best friend; just be around them more often; get to know them; and get them to know you, too. I am sure your work schedule is very demanding, and you have other obligations, too, so time for conversations is hard to come by, as you may say. But what’s more important than the well being of your own children? Kids do listen to their parents if they are there for them. You’ve just got to make yourself available.

How about starting with having dinners together regularly as a family?

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