Tuesday, March 18, 1997
Do bad kids happen
to bad parents?

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Does it strike you as a little peculiar that Cincinnati's city council just passed a law noticing that parents are responsible for their children?

Everybody already knew that. Right? They're our kids. We brought them into the world, and we know it's up to us to raise them. It's fairly simple at first. They don't eat much, and they can't go anywhere. Later, it gets harder. And they do not come with a warranty. Or a manual. Or a Web page: www.thiskidisdrivingmenuts.com.

But it's up to us to civilize them, because for one thing we have to live with them. So we nag them to clean their rooms or at least provide a field guide for those times when we must enter to retrieve missing dishes and glasses. Study. Brush your teeth. Change your underwear. Don't skateboard in the house. Stuff like that.

Awful Adolescence

Meanwhile, they have begun to eat a lot and are going places where we are not invited. And they are exchanging information with other kids who may not be required to clean their rooms or even go to school if they don't feel like it.

Maybe we find ourselves as a single head of household, that household containing a difficult teen-ager. The Terrible Twos were nothing compared to Awful Adolescence. Now we're going to be punished for having bad kids. As if having a bad kid is not punishment enough.

Last week, they passed a law holding parents accountable for their minor children's crimes. It's now illegal to fail to supervise your child. This law applies to parents of children arrested in the city. So listen up, suburban parents.

The first offense calls for a fine of up to $250 and/or community service. The penalty is waived if the parents take a new 12-week parent-training class. ''How do we determine who is a good parent and who is a bad parent?'' asks Todd Portune, who opposed the measure.

Well, I don't know exactly how we know that either, Mr. Portune, but I'll bet we can recognize parents who could use some help, whether they want it or not.

The law cites examples including demanding that a parent use ''reasonable controls'' to prevent a child from vandalizing, stealing, keeping stolen property or assaulting another. The classes will be similar to a program for parents whose kids skip school.

Parent Power

The truancy program, administered by Family Service of the Cincinnati Area, is called Parent Power. I like the sound of that, don't you? Arlene Herman, president of Family Service, says parents probably won't be happy at first, ''but I sat in a room and watched them line up to thank the judge who made them come to the truancy program.''

Punishment is not really the point, according to the ordinance sponsor, Phil Heimlich. ''This is a way to target people who need help.''

Council member Minette Cooper insisted that the counseling be available to any parent who wants it for the very sound reason that ''I'd like to help people before they're in trouble.''

A bonus might be to take some of the pressure off schools. If people become better parents, it seems reasonable to expect that they might deliver better students to the doors of our schools. For the first year - the test year - we'll spend $264,000 of the city's money, matched by the state. Your money. My money.

As a card-carrying village member, I stand ready to do what I can to help educate and protect children. Even children not related to me by blood, even children brought into the world without consultation with me. I like to think of it as a kind of initiation fee into the human race.

That said, I would like to make sure that the parents of these children are dragged - kicking and screaming, if necessary - into the village, too. It only seems fair. And sensible.

You know, the more you think about it, the less peculiar this new law seems. It's just the village sending a message to people who choose to make more villagers.

We are just saying that you may not throw up your hands and surrender. If you do, it will cost you. If you do not, we're ready to help.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.