the lost children of rockdale county
Catherine and Steve: Kevin's parents have raised five children in Conyers and they wrestle with the issue of  just how strict a parent should be.
navigation, see below for text
I want to talk about raising kids. What's your philosophy of parenting if you have one?

Steve: I think she disagrees with me, but my feeling is you need to give them a little bit of leeway. Let them to get go out and sow their oats as they're young, so they won't do it when they're old. Put them on a long leash and as long as they don't step out of your boundaries, let them go. But if they do step out of your boundaries yank that chain back. I'm very lenient with them. She's not. She doesn't want me to be as lenient as I am. But that's just the way I feel.

Where did you get the notion that you should be lenient? Is there a reason?

Steve: That's the way my parents raised me and I think I turned out to be a decent person. ...

Are there rules in this house for the kids? Have there ever been?

Steve: Nothing that's earth shattering, no, hardly. ... When they do something wrong, they know it and they know that I know it. ... But it's worked real well.

When you look at the way you and your friends were raised and what your life was like when you were teenagers, and compare it to the lives of your kids, do you think things have changed?

Steve: Oh yeah, we had a lot more fun back then than they do now. Everything's just too strict on them. ...

What won't you accept from your kids?

Steve: I want good grades out of school. That's all I really ask of them to do is to go to school, make good grades and they'll get along just fine. ...

Now, both Jenny and Kevin left high school before they finished.

Steve: Correct. I put them into a private school. Thinking that I was doing them a favor to help them get along, to make it a little bit easier on them cause they were kind of struggling. ... That didn't work out too good. Found out the school wasn't teaching them what they were supposed to be teaching. So I tried to put them back in public school to find out that the private school wasn't an accredited school. So the public school would not take the grades. They wanted to set them back, both of them, two years. And I wasn't going to do that so I got them both to take their GEDs ... . Now I got them in the university system where their grades will go to whatever college they want to go to. ...

And you did not mind that they didn't finish, that they didn't get a high school diploma?

Steve: I would have preferred them to had. But to me, high school isn't your biggest you know source of education. College to me is more important. ... They're struggling a little bit right now because they did miss so much ... . But they'll manage.

Would you consider yourself to be more a friend than a parent to your kids or more a parent than a friend?

I like to make it 50/50 or try to. I don't want them to be scared of me. I want to be their friend as well as a parent. You try to be too much of a friend then you lose your authority as a parent. If you're trying to be too much a parent then you lose your friendship. So I try to split it as even as I can. ...

I still am curious. Earlier you said that high school's a big playground, and it was a big playground when you were younger. But it does seem as though the playing has gotten more dangerous at times.

Steve: When I was a kid playing would maybe consist of skipping school, going to a little hamburger joint and hanging out, that kind of just stuff, just a little bit mischievous. Now ... drugs are a lot more common than they were when I was in school. Now I guess when they skip school they go take dope all day long. ... Their activities just aren't the same as they were back when I was a kid. ...

You ever afraid for your kids?

Steve: Yeah, every time I pull out of the driveway. Worry about it a lot. They have certain stuff they want to go and do that I don't like them--don't particularly want them to go and do, but I allow it anyway. ... I do worry about it and hope that they'll use common sense and behave. ...

As a mother, I 'm wondering what your upbringing was like--it sounds like it was very different than the way your kids have been raised.

Catherine: Yeah it was. I was raised a lot stricter. I had strict curfew, had to be on time, if I wasn't on time, I got grounded. ...

It sounds like you and your husband disagree somewhat about the issue of leniency.

Catherine: Yeah. I guess it's the way we were raised. His parents let him do more and I was raised where you did what your parents told you to. And it's been a struggle.

What are your concerns about his style?

Catherine: I guess I'm afraid of their getting into more trouble, being able to do more that they would get into more trouble. But they've been in some trouble but not bad like other kids that I've seen.

So you've seen some kids who have been into very serious...

Catherine: Oh yeah. A lot worse. ..

Have you ever been disappointed in the way your kids have behaved?

Catherine: I've been disappointed in the things they've done. Like  Jenny running away, and when they're drinking. They started that too young, ...

Something I've noticed amongst a lot of the kids today is almost like a feeling of entitlement. Is that something you've observed as well?

Catherine: Yeah. I think that our children are given too much. They hadn't had to work to get a car or they don't have to pay their insurance on it. And that's something I did when I was a child, . My parents didn't have money to buy me a car. They would sign for it, but I had to pay the payments and had to pay my insurance and it taught me how to manage my money.

My kids, they don't know how to manage their money. They just they get it and they go spend it. Because they don't have any responsibility, like a car payment or insurance, and that's something that I think that instead of handing it to them we should of helped them. ...

Do you feel like your kids expect you to give them things now?

Catherine: Yeah, in a sense I do. Cause they've never had to take their money and use it for anything like that. ... They don't have to buy their own clothes. I buy their clothes for them. ... Mostly everything they get we give them. TVs and VCRs and things I didn't have as a teenager.

They all had their own TV?

Catherine: Yeah. Steve had a rule that he wasn't going to let them have a TV when they were smaller. You can't have TV in your room, 'cause you'll stay in your room all the time. And it seems like when they got older they stayed in their room anyway so we thought, well they can have a TV 'cause they don't come out of the room anyway.

Do you feel close to your kids?

Catherine: Well at times I have, and at times I haven't. ... When they were little, we were close because I was at home with them and took them outside and played with them and spent time with them. But in those teenager years, we sort of grew apart. ...

Do you miss the closeness?

Catherine: Yeah. It makes you feel bad that you can't talk to your child, that they don't want you to know what's going on. ...

Your kids clearly can do basically what they want to do. Do you worry about them?

Catherine: Oh yeah, all the time. ... Because things can happen. You could get killed tomorrow. I worry when you're out and if you don't call--let us know where you're at. I don't know if you're out laying on the side of the road dead or somebody's kidnapped you. And the kids don't understand why you worry so much. ...

How did you feel when Jenny and Kevin stopped going to high school?

Catherine: I didn't like it. I thought they should of stayed in there. But you can't make somebody do something that they don't want to do. And you can't make them study and have good grades if they don't want to. I wished they'd of stayed in school. I think they realize that they wished they stayed in there now.

You didn't feel there was anything you could do?

Catherine: No. Jenny's real stubborn. If she's not going to do something you can't make her do it. She's always been like that. Ever since she was little. ... She'd sit there and argue with you till you were blue in the face. ...

What about talking? Did you talk with them more when they were younger?

Catherine: Yeah, I think so. ... It gets harder cause they don't want to confide in you and they don't want you knowing what they're doing ... They go off in their own little world whenever they want to.

Who runs their lives?

Catherine: I guess they do, up to a point. ... I think what it is is we've lost control over our children. You can't spank them now or they'll turn you into the

police. ... I don't believe you should beat your children, but I think you need to discipline them. I've raised my children, tried to raise them to be good. I've tried to tell them that drugs are bad and that they don't need to drink and all. And I know they're going to go out and sow their oats, that's expected. But I don't know where kids get this behavior from other than knowing that their parents have lost control over the years.

... A friend of mine, his child got real ugly with him up in his face and he slapped her face and she had him arrested. And kids know that they've got that power, I guess . And with Jenny she used to threaten to run away . "If you do this and do that I'm going to run away and there's nothing you can do about it." There wasn't. She's 17. I couldn't make her come home. She could run away and I could make her come home, but the law is funny, until she's 18, I couldn't keep her out of my house. I couldn't make her come home, but I couldn't kick her out. So I think the government has a lot to do with [it]; they've went too far. They took away parents' rights.

It seems like the balance of power has shifted to the kids.

Catherine: Yeah it has. And the kids know that. ...

As a parent, you very courageously have sat here and told us a great deal about your life and your family. And what I've noticed is--in the most difficult parts you explain, after you explain that, you smile a lot. I'm just wondering how are you personally able to cope with these things that are so alien to the way you were brought up and perhaps to the way you really want to see it done so that they have a chance in an already very difficult world?

Catherine: I don't know I cope with it. I guess you get to a point where you have to let go and you hope that they make the right decision cause you can't protect them all your life. They have to make the decision whether to take drugs or whether to drink or whether to have sex. That's something that they have to decide to do. I can give them my opinion and tell them how I feel, but they have to decide for themselves. All I can do is hope that things that I've told them in the past will play a part on what they do decide. ...

Your husband's philosophy is just let them sow their oats and they'll learn from their own mistakes. But is that sometimes dangerous?

Catherine: Yeah, I think it is. I think you should put your foot down and tell them that you're not going to put up with this and that. And just the other day me and Jenny was in here talking and she was saying, "I wish you'd a been more strict, you should of been more strict with me." I said "Jenny, you wouldn't let me be strict. You threatened to run away. That's easy for you to say now, but the child that you are, stubborn as you are, how could I've been stricter with you?" We took her car away from her. We tried several things. But she's bound and determined to do what's she going to do. ...

Listening to you, it really sounds like you've lost power, you've lost the war ... in your own house to your husband and to your kids.

Catherine: I gave up. I have literally gave up. I got tired of the fighting, the bickering, with Jenny. My nerves would be just shot and I got to the point where it's easier for me to let Jenny go do what she wants to instead of standing there fussing and fighting with her, and we get along better. She'll come talk to me more now than she would, since it seems like I let go. The struggle's over. I have given up. It doesn't do me any good. Which is sad I guess. But they are older. I guess if they were younger, I'd probably put up a better fight. But since they're older, I figure they've been through what they're going to go through and now they're on their own.

home | discussion | is this story isolated? | interviews | the syphilis outbreak
more about rockdale county | resources for teens and parents
tapes & transcripts | synopsis | press

FRONTLINE | pbs online | wgbh

New Content Copyright © 1999 PBS Online and WGBH/FRONTLINE

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

NEXT ON FRONTLINE

Losing IraqJuly 29th

RECENT STORIES

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS
../video/ ../video/producers.html ../outbreak/ ../interviews/ ../isolated/ ../talk/ ../