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Columnist: Are our children really out of control?

By Glenn Dowell

Contributing columnist

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In 2007, there were 60,426 juveniles in committed custody, down from 75,406 in 1997.

According to the American Correctional Association, the average daily cost nationwide to incarcerate one juvenile offender in 2008 was $240. That translates to an average cost of $66,000 to $88,000 for 9 to 12 months … many times the cost of tuition and fees at a public four-year university or a two-year community or technical college (No Place for Kids, “The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration,” the Annie E. Casey Foundation).

Juvenile incarceration may be down, but few are comforted by such a report. The fact of the matter is that most of us believe that juvenile crime is clearly out of control based on what we see reported daily in the media.

A friend stated to me recently that this generation of kids have been the less-spanked of any generation to date, but are the most dangerous. He went on to say that children today are free to express themselves without fear of punishment or discipline.

I was raised the old school way. This simply meant that my parents truly subscribed to the biblical principle of “spare the rod-spoil the child.” Around adults in conversation, children were to be seen and not heard. Schools could get away with spanking children during my generation without permission from parents.

When I became an adult, I raised my three children the same way. I was a single parent of three children: two sons and a daughter. I believed in spanking and discipline and would probably be arrested for child cruelty or abuse by today’s legal standards.

Even though on occasion I disciplined them physically, they knew that I would lay down my life for each of them. I am sure, however, that the loving environment created in our home during their childhood contributed to each of them being very successful today.

Suggestions for parents in raising children

We should begin early in a child’s life to establish expectations that are consistent with societal norms. If, for some reason, your child later strays from the proactive activities that you define early in his or her life, you will have the painful comfort in realizing, in retrospect, that at least you did what was expected of you as a parent. You might also benefit from the advice juveniles in a major detention facility provided to parents, which might deter your child from getting in trouble:

1. Praise us when we deserve it. If you give us kids a few compliments once in a while, we will be able to accept criticism a lot easier.

2. Keep cool. Keep the lid on when things go wrong. Kids need to know how much better things turn out when people keep their tempers under control.

3. Don’t get strung out on booze or too many pills. When we see our parents reaching for those crutches, we get the idea that nobody goes out there alone and that it is perfectly OK to reach for a bottle or capsule when things get heavy. We lose respect for parents who tell us how to behave one way, while they behave another.

4. Bug us a little. Be strict. Show us who’s boss. We need to know that we’ve got some strong support under us. When you cave in, we get scared.

5. Don’t blow your class. Stay on that pedestal. Don’t try to dress, dance or talk like your kids. You embarrass us, and you look ridiculous.

6. Light a candle. Show us the way. We need to believe in something bigger and stronger than ourselves.

7. Scare us. If you catch us lying, stealing or being cruel, get tough. Let us know what we did was wrong. Impress on us the importance of not repeating such behavior.

8. When we need punishment, dish it out. But let us know you still love us, even though we have let you down. It will make us think twice before we make that same mistake again.

9. Call our bluff. Make it clear you mean what you say. Stand up to us and we will respect you. Kids do not want everything they ask for.

10. Be honest. Tell us the truth, no matter what. Be the straight arrow about everything. We can take it. We can smell uncertainty a mile away.

What do you think, parents? Does the message strike a familiar chord in your family? If so, begin today to establish a better relationship with your child.

Glenn Dowell is an author and LaGrange native who currently lives in Jonesboro. He may be reached at glenn.dowell@gmail.com.