Dads Against the Divorce Industry

DA*DI is devoted to reinstating the societal valuation of Marriage and the traditional, nuclear American Family, with particular emphasis on the essential role of FATHERS.

DA*DI offers contemporary reports and commentary on culture; its aberrations and its heroes.

Kathleen Parker: Making Sense of Things

National narcissism sparked Columbine

By Kathleen Parker

Published in The Orlando Sentinel on April 28, 1999.

Predictable rumblings have begun in the wake of the Columbine school shootings calamity, with calls for more government prevention programs, more prosecution of violent youth, more gun control. But they're all false leads on a trail that eludes all but those who remember life when:

Children were not in charge of their lives; adults were.

Parents didn't coddle and cajole their kids; they provided rules and consequences.

Self-esteem wasn't a gift bestowed, but the result of hard work, discipline and self-control.

The difference between then, when kids settled differences in schoolyard scuffles, and now, when kids bring weapons to commit mass murder, is more than music, movies and media, more than easy access to weapons.

These are but convenient targets for blame, relatively easy to fix when compared to slaying the real monster -- our national narcissism.

We've indulged ourselves and our children with unprecedented materialism. We've pursued interests and careers with unparalleled zeal while relegating our children's care and upbringing to hired substitutes, schools and government programs.

We've replaced traditional values of hard work and discipline with artificial self-esteem. You're good, we tell our children, because you are, not because you've done a darned thing to deserve our estimation.

The legacy of such spoiling is a generation of young people inflated with faux self-worth. Chicago psychologist Barbara Lerner gets the "nutshell" award this week for her summation: "We have more wanton schoolboy killers today because we have more narcissists, and the step from being a narcissist to a wanton killer is a short one, especially in adolescence," she wrote in The Detroit News.

Humans emerge from the womb as fully formed narcissists; we can't help it. For survival, we must focus all energies on getting attention for food, warmth and nurturing. Good parents instinctively nourish children through the infant/toddler stage with unconditional love.

At some point along the road
toward adolescence, however, unconditional love must become conditional upon certain expected behaviors. Parenting is all about drawing clear moral boundaries and enforcing acceptable limits to produce conscience and compassion in children. To do otherwise is to create kids who think their rights and interests supersede those of others. In other words, schoolboy bombers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.

Parents in previous generations used to know these child-rearing fundamentals. Rules were clear; "no" meant "no"; consequences for disobedience or bad behavior were immediate.

Current psychological research confirms what once was conventional wisdom. In a study published by the American Psychological Association last year, Brad J. Bushman of Iowa State University and Roy F. Baumeister of Case Western Reserve University found that violence isn't caused by low self-esteem; rather violence may be caused by overinflated self-esteem.

In the sad wake of the shootings at Columbine High School, America's greatest challenge isn't about healing or feeling good or coping. The challenge is to get tough with ourselves and retrieve the best lessons of America's past when, among other things: Mothers wouldn't consider abandoning their infants to strangers; fathers were revered and, yes, sometimes feared; kids earned self-respect by working hard for grades, privilege and praise.

Kathleen Parker's column also appears Sunday in the Sentinel's Insight section. She welcomes your views and suggestions. Mail: The Orlando Sentinel, MP-72, P.O. Box 2833, Orlando, Fla. 32802-2833.

[Posted 04/27/1999 2:46 PM EST]

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