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Parents Who Stay on the Job

A salesman rang the doorbell at a suburban home, and the door was opened by a nine-year-old boy puffing on a long, black cigar. Hiding his amazement, the salesman asked the boy, "Is your mother home?" The boy took the cigar out of his mouth, flicked the ashes on the carpet, and asked, "What do you think?" Could it be that many of the problems with "delinquent" children could be traced to the unavailability and irresponsibility of "delinquent parents?" Both Scripture and social science say that is the case. "Absent fathers" (and mothers) are not a new problem. Nearly 3,000 years ago Solomon warned what would happen when children were not surrounded and supported by caring parents — The rod and rebuke give wisdom, But a child left to himself brings shame to his mother" (Proverbs 29:15). Even in Solomon's day there were "absent parents" and children who were "home alone." Parents who were too distracted, too disconnected, too undisciplined, and too self-absorbed in their own pain or pleasure or whatever to provide the attention, affirmation, direction, discipline, nurture, love and training so vital to a child's well-being. "A child left to himself' — that's a haunting phrase. We are shocked at the brutality and cruelty we see in extreme cases of neglect and/or abandonment. But there is more than one way to be "absent" from our children. In 2000 a Newsweek issue reported that as a group the 22 million teenagers in America live lives that are more "adult free" than other generations (5-8-00 — "A World of Their Own" ,p 53). In the article Patricia Hersch (author of the 1998 book A Trine Apart) Says, "Adolescents are not a tribe apart because they left us, as most people assume. We left them. This generation of kids has spent more time alone than any generation in history." The article noted that many teens live in a private, "adult-free" world of the Web and videogames, spending 20% of their waking hours alone . The result is that teens are isolated from adults and parents more than ever before. Adding to the problem, according to William Damon of Stanford University, "There is an ethic among adults that says, `Kids want to be autonomous; don't get in their face."

Proverbs 29:15 (cited earlier) speaks to the problem of "problem children" — problem parents who leave children to themselves. Parents who are absent from their God-given task as mentor, teacher, guide, protector and disciplinarian. Parents, God expects you to stay on the job. Get in your kids' face and stay in their space. Otherwise, it may be more than a cigar that goes up in smoke.

Dan Gulley
church of Christ
Smithville, Tennessee