October 10, 2001

Professor Explains Where Parents Fail

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In recent years, children have made national headlines with their acts of violence. Sunday, a Cornell University professor addressed the discrepancy between the efforts of parents in raising their children and the end result.

“There is a gap between the good intentions of parents and the final outcome,” said James Garbarino, co-director of the Family Life Development Center and the Elizabeth Lee Vincent professor of Human Development, during a talk at the Tompkins County Public Library.

The talk, based on Garbarino’s newly co-written book Parents Under Siege: Why You Are the Solution, Not the Problem in Your Child’s Life, was sponsored by The Bookery, a local bookstore.

During the talk, Garbarino tried to give some reasons for the gap that exists between the intentions of parents and how their children turn out. Most parents mean well, Garbarino said, noting that parents don’t say to their babies, “I look forward to seeing you in prison [when you grow up].”

The gap results because parents have imperfect knowledge of child development and they don’t realize that children vary temperamentally.

“One of the most important things for parents to do is to see the child in front of them and not the one they want them to be,” he said. Parents need to accept the children for who they are, he added.

“My daughter said she is the Mercedes Benz of babies,” Garbarino said, “and that describes her perfectly” since her temperament made her an easy baby to raise, with no significant problems.

However, when dealing with difficult children, parenting can be a challenge, according to Garbarino. “Do you compensate for [their temperament] or do you teach them to deal with it?” he asked.

Garbarino recommends teaching the children to deal with it since the parents won’t be around all the time to compensate for it.

Another reason for the gap between the parents’ intentions and the outcome stems from the fact that “children have secret lives,” he said.

In a study of Cornell students, “35 percent of females contemplated suicide during high school and their parents never knew,” Garbarino said.

Although secret lives are part of normal development, Garbarino urged parents to gather as much information as they can about their children and to create an atmosphere where children feel comfortable about self-disclosure.

Garbarino gave several more reasons for why children don’t turn out as intended, including the increasingly “toxic social environment” which compounds the difficulty of parenting.

The relationship between “TV violence on aggressive behavior is as strong as the relationship between smoking and lung cancer,” said Garbarino. As a result, parents today need to monitor their children’s TV viewing habits and even their Internet usage.

Garbarino concluded his talk by answering the audiences’ question and signing copies of his book.

Audience member Tim Clouser was very satisfied with Garbarino’s presentation.

“He’s right on with lots of things,” Clouser said. “I’m a parent and a teacher, and it was nice to have him for immediate response to questions.”

Garbarino is a leading expert in child development and the author of 18 books, including Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them. He has over 25 years of child and family research experience and has conducted dozens of interviews with parents across the country, including the only face-to-face conversations with the parents of Columbine school shooter Dylan Klebold.

Archived article by Luke Hejnar