the lost children of rockdale county
lost children or lost parents of rockdale county? by Robert Wm. Blum, M.D., Ph.D. and colleagues Blum is Professor and Director of the Division of General Pediatrics & Adolescent Health,  University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
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For many reasons, "The Lost Children of Rockdale County" is a very disturbing portrayal of youth in a middle to upper middle class community. While on the surface this is a program about sex and sexual promiscuity, what is far more disturbing than that is the tremendous disconnect that exists between the children of Rockdale County and their families. Over and over again, throughout the program, we see parents who are either clueless or blatantly unconcerned about their children. We see parents who have replaced caring and personal involvement with the purchase of material goods and we see parents who are afraid to discipline their children--
What is so disturbing about the program is not that we are witnessing a rare event in the United States, but rather an event that is quite common. "I thought that if I disciplined you, you would run away."

Or, who are afraid to hug their children--"We don't do that in our family. " And who are afraid to set boundaries--"I felt that he should sow his wild oats when he was young so he wouldn't do it when he was older".

We see young people who even three years after the event don't fully understand the magnitude of the behaviors in which they were participants. And, we see a community that has changed little or not at all as a consequence of the events in 1996. Fundamentally, Rockdale County is a setting where there are no resources for young people; there are no options except the strip mall, the movies and the bowling lane, and there is nothing for them to do. It is a community that is built for adults.

What is so disturbing about the program is not that we are witnessing a rare event in the United States, but rather an event that is quite common. First of all, the use of sex to attract friendships and maintain social connections (or to disrupt others' social connections) is age old and the fact that this is a white upper income community does not make it particularly surprising despite the editorial comments of the commentator. Rather, there may be a perception (there appears to be this bias in the program) that these events are rare in suburban America. The events are not rare; it may be that as adults we tend to be less willing to acknowledge them in this kind of community than in lower income communities.

Another issue that was touched on in the program was access to pornography, with young people as young as 12 and 13 imitating what they saw on the Playboy Channel. In truth, we know that juveniles have easy access to pornography through the Internet, cable television and the corner magazine rack. The solution is not more laws or greater restrictions, for rarely have such interventions worked. Rather, we need to have adults continuously, visibly and actively present in the lives of young people. We need to have parents who are authoritative in their parenting, not authoritarian or laissez-faire as we saw in the program. Authoritative parents set clear boundaries, discuss and negotiate the rules but then follow through with pre-established consequences. Authoritative parents are both firm and fair. Rarely did we see such parents in the program. Rather, we saw parents who were unable to connect with their children and even when they did, they thought that caring was all that was needed. It isn't. Rather, adolescents need guidance as well as encouragement and they need to know that their parents, their relatives and the adult network in the neighborhood are all watching them, are all concerned, and see their upbringing as a priority. While the program is entitled "The Lost Children of Rockdale County" the reality is that these are the lost parents of Rockdale County and even after the syphilis epidemic and even after the town hall meeting, it is clear that the adults in the community are as clueless as they ever were.

In community after community across America we look at adolescent problem behaviors and we define them to be the result of problem adolescents. While we are happy and comfortable to scapegoat young people, we often don't look to the environment that we as adults have created that allow a situation to develop. Such is clearly the case here. For young people to flourish they need four things and until every town and village and major urban area in America are prepared to provide them, Rockdale County will not be a distant place, but in fact our backyard. The things critical for successful development include:

1. Safe places for young people to congregate with adult supervision;

2. Opportunities for young people to actively contribute to their family, their neighborhood and their community;

3. Opportunities for active recreation and for young people to have fun and enjoy themselves;

4. An adult in the life of every young person who is "crazy about them".


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