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Jewish World Review July 14, 2000 /11 Tamuz, 5760

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Consumer Reports

Trust means different things to parents and children -- MY LATEST BOOK, Parenthood by Proxy: Don't Have Them If You Won't Raise Them"".)", identifies the increasing distance between parents and children caused by the formers' focus on self-gratification, material wealth and personal fulfillment. It is a strange combination of neglect and indulgence -- one, the cause; the other, the effect. Because parents are so often absent, they appear reluctant to assume the authority that is not only necessary to parent effectively but is also their solemn obligation to their children. A fallout of this situation is what I call "stupid trusting."

If there is one serious concept most parents have wrong, it is this issue of trust. For some reason parents have gotten the impression that "love means always having trust." That is both a silly and a dangerous notion.

Many parents call my radio program having heard something serious about their child's behavior from one of their child's friends. Or perhaps they read something on a piece of paper that slipped from the pocket of their child's jeans during the spin cycle, or snooped in their child's journal, backpack, dresser drawers or closet floor. They are immobilized to follow through lest the child accuse them of not trusting.

The fear of that indictment virtually paralyzes some parents into ignoring problems concerning illegal behavior, drugs, sex, cheating, skipping school, sneaking onto Internet pornography sites, smoking and eating disorders.

One mother was virtually hysterical on the phone after having found blatantly vulgar e-mail on her 14-year-old daughter's computer from her 16-year-old boyfriend. The message was rather graphic, describing in detail the sexual delights in store for her little girl. I asked the mother what she intended to do about it. She said she didn't see how she could do anything, because she'd have to admit to prying into her daughter's privacy. She said, "Tina would never trust me again."

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I challenged her: "So, Mom, rather than risk her getting mad at you, you'd risk her becoming sexually active at an age when she certainly can't handle the psychological ramifications of sexual intimacy, getting pregnant, acquiring a sexually transmitted disease, being used as a sex toy? Are you kidding?"

No, she wasn't -- and that's downright scary. This dopey mentality reflects a belief that children are the equals of their parents -- just shorter; that children, whose every need is met by their parents, are somehow entitled to equal standing when it comes to their own opinions, decisions, activities and privacy.

As I've said many times, those who accept the responsibility are entitled to the power. Since the parent shoulders the entire responsibility for the life and continued well-being of dependent minor children, the parent holds the power. Children have power only by the dispensation of the adult -- who metes it out to the child as a function of maturity (the ability and willingness not to be impulsive and to follow rules), trustworthiness (gained by opportunities handled appropriately) and circumstance (people, places and things involving minimum risk).

Trust is a very different concept as it relates to the child or the parent. This is the point of error in most families. When a child in a typical family speaks about trusting a parent, he generally means that the parent will give or do whatever she's promised, in spite of any or all intervening circumstances. I spoke with one 15-year-old boy who complained to me that he could no longer trust his mom. It seems she promised him extra money for doing some specific chore and didn't pay up. Of course, the fact that money became scarce in the household due to financial troubles was irrelevant to him. And that's the point. For children, trusting a parent means getting what was promised -- a self-centered concern.

This is in contrast to the essence of a trustworthy parent. A parent must be trusted to be alert and aware of her child's behaviors, emotions, activities and problems. A parent needs to be responsive to the child's needs and events in her life. A parent must be trusted to discipline, teach, direct and even punish when necessary, to help his child develop character. Notice that the things that make a parent trustworthy are not self-centered but child-centered. That is because the parent is responsible for the child, while the child is responsible to the parent.

To that end, the responsible parent must use any and all means to gain the information she needs, if there is concern that the child may be off track. I have told parents that daily snooping in their child's things is wrong, destructive to the relationship with their child, and indicative of some psychological problem of their own that needs attention. However, where there is an indication that something might be wrong, or where there is intent to follow up to make sure things stay on track, the parent has a moral responsibility to that child to get that information.

I just love it when a parent and a child call my radio program together and the child is complaining about his things and his space and his privacy being invaded. First I determine that the parents are not compulsively bugging the child for no good reason. Once that is determined, I remind the child that the possessive pronoun "mine" is not completely accurate. All the children have, including their own lives, is by the grace of their parents and G-d.

(Excerpted from Dr. Laura Schlessinger's newest best-selling book: Parenthood by Proxy: Don't Have Them If You Won't Raise Them"".)

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© 2000, Dr. Laura Schlessinger. This feature may not be reproduced or distributed electronically, in print or otherwise without the written permission of Universal New Media and Universal Press Syndicate.