Raif: Teaching children to be responsible

On the Aug. 31 Forum page, Sophie Phillips , CEO of TexProtects, the Texas chapter for Prevent Child Abuse America, stresses the need to address serious issues in childhood that will show up as violence-related in later childhood. “Prevention is within our means to address, and childhood is the earliest point possible,” she wrote.

Unfortunately her organization’s proposals for a state legislative strategy for prevention programs was strongly supported by the House, but died in the Senate.

Two weeks ago I was waiting in the computer repair store when an African American man walked in. We began chatting and I inquired if I could ask him a question. It was this: Why are there so many young black men getting into horrible trouble, such as shooting another person just because he doesn’t like what that person says? It breaks my heart every time I read of this.

He replied, “Because there is no man in the home to teach him what he needs to know to be a law-abiding man. I know, because I was in prison and couldn’t teach my son.”

A week later at the beauty shop where I get my hair cut by an African-American woman, I told her what the man at the computer repair store told me. She replied, “He’s exactly right.”

Even though Phillips so far has been unable to enact her program statewide, there is something we as parents can do. Starting at a child’s early age, we need to teach them consequences. If you do something, what is the result?

I reared four sons. When the oldest was only 2 years old, there was a pediatrician who for many years had written an advice column in the newspapers. One of his columns said to “make the punishment fit the crime.”

At 5 o’clock one morning, I heard my oldest son and his younger brother (who were 3 and 2 at the time) laughing. Their dad was working out of state, so it was up to me to go investigate. They had purposely spilled a five pound bag of pinto beans all over the floor in their room.

I calmly drew a line down the middle and showed Robert his half and James his. I said, “You don’t get breakfast until your half is picked up. Robert loved to eat, so he got breakfast at 5:30.

James always tried to test the boundaries. He didn’t get to eat until 9.

Several years later we were living on a college campus that had triplexes covered outside with redwood siding. I had not finished using some enamel paint, so I put it on the patio and threatened the kids with their lives if they got into it. James did. He painted one whole panel, on the side next to the door, with the blue paint.

Again, calmly (I don’t know how I did that), I went to the hardware store and bought sandpaper. I gave it to James and told him he didn’t get to go anywhere until all of the paint was sanded off. “But I have Little League practice,” he protested.

“Then I guess you’d better get busy,” I replied.

They all learned from their mistakes, meaning they knew I wouldn’t correct the mistakes for them, nor would I allow them to get out of their responsibilities. They all put themselves through college and two have advanced degrees.

The point that both Phillips and I are trying make is that children have to be taught to be responsible citizens. But there are times when tired parents find it’s just easier to clean up a child’s mess than to take the time and effort to show them how to, or make them clean up the mess themselves.

This same scenario fits with teaching them how to resist the temptations they are faced with today. Create a scenario, then ask the child if it is carried out, what might the repercussions be? They need to learn consequences so they can resist when something is wrong when you aren’t there to tell them no.

Unfortunately there are situations such as the one the African-American man related. It would be great if a group in a church was willing to stand with the parents, for the man to be an example to the young men and “teach them how to be a man.” And mothers and grandmothers in a fatherless home need to reach out and ask for help.

If someone doesn’t help these kids — young men — who will?

— Gayle Raif, a Longview resident, is a regular contributor to the Saturday Forum.

Today's Bible verse

“He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant — not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

2 Corinthians 3:6

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