the lost children of rockdale county
Discussion: General Comments: What are your reactions and thoughts about this FRONTLINE report?
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Dear FRONTLINE

The parents of today's teenagers came of age when this society was loudly declaring parents must be friends with their children.

I think that is a false idea and its results are viciously backlashing at today's America through children with no respect for others or for anything but themselves and their own desires.

When a parent believes that it is healthy to be friends with their child and therefore treat him/her on their own level they will inevitiably believe that it is unhealthy to discipline.

I see so many parents not following through and being consistent with their children. Children crave limits and boundaries, this is so easy to see once a person spends enough time with children that he or she is not emotionally attached to the way a parent is to their child.

In the program one parent made a comment to the effect that the son or daughter resisted punishment so the parent backed off. The parent wanted to please the child more than raise them up right. Kids resist punishment yes, but they are merely testing limits. Limits must be set instead of friendships be developed.

I think parent-child friendship can only be achieved once the child has matured way past adolescence.

Priya Plein
Santa Barbara, CA

Dear FRONTLINE

As a former resident of Rockdale county, I noticed a lot of the teenage behavior in '92-'97. Everyone, not a single set of people, are to blame.

A lot of the children just wanted a cool place to hang out with their friends; some just wanted to make friends. All of us have been subjected to some form of peer pressure and some of us succumbed to it for the reason of wanting to be liked. It is also understandable that these parents want the best for their children. It is clearly evident that the morality and ethics of the family unit is decaying. Some of the parents have lost sight of what is important, what is a neccessity, and what is purely a desire.

It is understandable that you want your child to be well educated, but does the computer have to have any games besides educational ones on it? I feel that a lot of the problems are too late to correct; only the "victims" are able to that for themselves. The younger children still have a spark of hope left within them. All of the communities, not only Conyers, need to come together as a whole to protect, nurture, and grow.

Pandora Smith
Norcross, Georgia

Dear FRONTLINE

I must tell you - I have been haunted by this program since I viewed it Friday evening. Those kids are starving for something missing from their souls, and it is not just those families in Rockdale County.

Is there anything for young people to be proud of in our society, other than material wealth? Other than sexual conquests? Other than alcoholic binge drinking? Forget about what goes on in college nowadays. Its happening as early as middle school and its NOT going to get any better, only worse.

Our freedoms have been fought for and won. Our political leaders are out of control and/or laughable.

Soon, those of us who remember what it was like to live with a world at war in our living rooms every night will be too old to make a difference. This is a wake-up call for me. I have to do something to make a difference before it is too late. Please tell me where I can start.

worcester, ma

Dear FRONTLINE

I believe that this program obviouly opened many parents eyes about the lifestyles of their children but the fact that everything was focused on only Rockdale annoyed me. Sure, it could happen anywhere but when I tell people that I meet that I am from Conyers, they automatically think that I am a sexual teenager sleeping with anyone that I meet. The show sets a terrible stereotype on Rockdale. Maybe your next show could be about the good children of Rockdale county who volunteer their time for others in need, or make the schools "schools of excellence",and send the sports teams to state. When you do make a show about that you can spend a day with me and I will show you day in a responsible teenager's life. I, along with others, plan on breaking down this stereotype that you have helped build.

Fawne De Rosia
Conyers, GA

Dear FRONTLINE

Unimaginable! There are children in Rockdale County who have sex before they reach adulthood!?! Never. Not in Rockdale. Give me a break. Of course Conyers has teens who engage in premarital, teenage sex, and if you thought otherwise, you must have been existing in some strange never never land. Welcome to the real world, SOME kids have sex. But let me also fill you in on another little surprise. SOME kids abstain.

I myself am a 1998 graduate of Heritage High School where the shooting occured. Personally, I think the Rockdale County School System was one of the best things that could have happened to me. No, the kids in Rockdale are not perfect--no one should be surprised by that. What I was surprised by, however, was the unprofessionalism of this report.

I do not object to the subject of your piece nor the location, rather, I object to your biased presentation in order to make your point. Perhaps you've forgotten the definition of Journalism... 'Journalism: writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation' Your presentation severly lacked the journalistic distance required for a quality report. Shock value sells, however, if we wanted tabloids, we would gladly turn to

Hard Copy.

Your report has done my community and my school system harm. Perhaps next time you'd like to do a report on the achievments of Rockdale's children. I doubt it'd sell as well, but for your journalistic purpose, why does that matter?

M K K
Conyers, GA

Dear FRONTLINE

I am Heather's parent. First I would like to congratulate Rachel and Frontline for choosing this topic.

Second, parents, communities, schools, you need to wake up. As Heather's parent, I did set rules. Heather didn't have a curfew because she was not allowed out unless I knew where she was, spoke with the parents, and based on the situation, established a time for her to be home. I have never had cable in my home because of the programs and didn't allow rap records with profanity in the home.

Heather was taught right from wrong. Church and christian life was always a high focus. We discussed sex, drugs, and drinking since the beginning of middle school. Heather was on restriction more than any other child I knew, her friends all considered me too strict.

When I traveled, her father or my parents stayed at our home and she was not allowed to go anywhere except school.

Yes, I could/should have been a better/more involved parent. But she did get supervision and did have rules.

Where I went wrong was not recogizing the problem until it was too late. Like so many of the parents writing to this site, I had no clue what our children are up against. I was blinded, not by laziness but by lack of information. Living in Rockdale, I didn't know about all the teenage sex. The STD news was buried.

I never suspected Heather was slipping out after I went to bed. I never suspected her coke can contained vodka. Not my child, she was only twelve. Her friends were only twelve or thirteen.

It never crossed my mind that children this young were exposed to so much.

Parents, don't be as naive as I was. Don't bury your heads and say it was because these kids were not supervised.

The other girls that slipped out with Heather were from all different backgrounds and lifestyles. And now I've seen at least one of these parents' remark on this site about the lack of parenting being a problem for the kids on the show--Your child was there too.

So lets stop pointing fingers and calmly look for links that have created this problem. Let's work on solutions.

Conyers, GA

Dear FRONTLINE

This report was excellent but the information it revealed was extremely disturbing. One thing that struck me over and over again is how alcohol abuse was at the core of a lot of this aberrant behavior. In the U.S., and other Anglo Saxon countries, we glorify drinking and assume that getting drunk is some kind of required rite of passage for kids.

Do you think that any of those kids would've participated in group sex if they weren't blown-out-of-their-minds drunk? If, as a culture, we make access to alcohol more difficult for kids, make drunkenness less fashionable and excusable and introduce kids to alcohol as a more normal, moderate enjoyment in life rather than an escape and an excuse to no longer take responsibility for your actions, then perhaps kids wouldn't be pressured into sexual experimentation before their time nor would they be killing themselves and others by the millions on the highways. I don't think that teenagers in France, Italy or Sweden get drunk in the same excessive, ritualistic way that teens in the U.S. do. The general culture winks at drunkeneness as a normal thing to do so we unconsciously give a nod to the kids, saying this is okay.

Finally, it seems that many again typically Anglo Saxon parents have this laissez faire attitude about parenting. That is, they don't appear to feel they have the right or the duty to interfere with their kids' behavior. They act as if they somehow honor their kids' independence and autonomy by letting them make their own mistakes, but this is a very false assumption. Kids need boundaries and guidance. They may not accept them easily but the parents can't just collapse because their kids object. I'm from an Irish-Catholic background myself but my husband is from a Middle-Eastern-Jewish tradition. In his tradition as in many other non Anglo-Saxon traditions, parents are very involved and directive in parenting; they don't merely defer to the kids and assume they'll bungle along and find out the answer on their own. I think parents need to regain their confidence and sense of right and responsibility in parenting. Kids nowadays have so much independence that we assume they can handle it, but they can't. At the moment kids are kings in the commercial marketplace and that contributes to this attitude that parents' power is secondary to their children's.

My husband and I feel that teens would benefit from more community volunteer work, and that perhaps that should be part of the school curriculum. Values and critical thinking need to be taught so that kids can inculcate them during this important time of life. We also believe compulsory service military or community upon graduation would be valuable. It would give teens a sense of responsibiity and broaden their view of life -- rather than being obsessed with their looks, material things and getting high. I'm afraid many of these kids appear rudderless, self-absorbed, unintelligent and incredibly immature despite all the "advantages" they have.

I hope we as a country can use the information from this report to change things. Thank you.

Kathi Wahed
San Francisco, CA

Dear FRONTLINE

My father is a retired public high school teacher and my uncle is a retired vocational school administrator. I am now continuing my graduate course in school counseling.

The story that you filmed and produced is one of the best contemporary stories I have ever seen. I commend you on presenting the material just as the students experience it. I believe that the issues these students face are very complex and interrelated. Many of the paths lead back to the parents and almost all of the issues are linked to "contemporary adolescence".

I give the single mother/parent much honor in realizing her daughter with the alcohol/drug problems is her daughter along with the steps they both worked out to address the family's situation. [I am afraid that the daughter is showing signs of alcoholism didn't give up drinking because she had to keep one thing.]

These students need the support of caring and responsible adults.

I can only hope that those individuals who viewed your episode are moved enough to give their own children and future children the support of a caring adult and let the children have "friends". These students had their parents taken from them by the choice of their parent to become their friend. Here is the biggest breakdown in the family stability. I only hope that the cycle won't be carried on when these students become parents.

Congradulations once again, Frontline, for a story well done.

New Bedford, MA

Dear FRONTLINE

I watched "The Lost Children of Rockdale County" last week and was horrified by what I saw. How in the world did these FAMILIES get so LOST? When the parents of these kids ask the same question, I hope that they're standing in front of a mirror holding their wallets & charge cards... that's where they'll find the answer.

I am so glad I had the parents that I did. When I was a teenager, I used to think I had the strictest parents on earth. I now realize that I had the most loving ones a girl could ever ask for. We were poor in money, but rich in love.

Just sign me... a Rockdale County High School Graduate, Class of '76.

Sarasota, FL

Dear FRONTLINE

I am a former student of one of the high schools in Rockdale. You blow everything out of proportion to get great ratings for your show.

As one of the 95% of people you didn't show in this documentary I am disgusted at the things you showed in this video

because if you would have visited many of the parties that I went to in my high school career you would have seen that this was not how it was at all.

Every community has their good and bad people and you choose the bad people to interview. If the media in general would stop over exaggerating the things that they report we wouldn't have kids having sexual transmitted disease or violence in our schools in our community.

conyers, ga

Dear FRONTLINE

As a former youth that grew up in Conyers and graduated from Heritage High School in 1992, I too came from a single parent home in the upper middle class area of Rockdale County and faced many of the same temptations as the teenagers in your story. Unlike them, however; I did not follow any of the paths they chose. Why? Because I had a father who was strict, diciplined with the tough love approach and raised me with the motto that the most important thing you can give your child is your time and attention, not your money. I have gone on to graduate college with honorsand start a successful career. I thank God that I was blessed with a parent that always wanted to know where I was, set a curfew and was never too busy to talk to me.

One of the problems of today's parents is that they exert so much effort on trying to be their child's friend that they neglect to be a strong parent. They have substituted spending time with their children with buying them material objects. Your story is not a story about lost children in Rockdale County. Your story is about lost parents in Rockdale County and throughout our nation.

Leah Tobler Hervis
Lawrenceville, Georgia

Dear FRONTLINE

As an uncle to a teen, similar to the ones profiled, I was horrified to realize what is going on in their lives. Clearly, these teens lack parental control and structure. They must be involved in sports or other social programs that occupy their days.

When I was their age I was so involved with school sports and my studies that I did not have time to "misbehave."

Secondly, what grabbed my attention, was the interview with the three young females who "loved rap music." This is what is wrong with these children. The music is designed to be racist, hateful, and downright sinful. Adults should boycot any products made by these music producers

Tom Haley
boston, ma

Dear FRONTLINE

I see by the response from the very angry Rockdale High School teacher who demanded an apology that this community has more than one problem. This teacher missed the point entirely. Did s/he not notice the title of the program? That is a clue to what it's about. Too bad s/he was forced to look beneath the surface and see the problems of these kids without distraction. Still, s/he didn't 'see.' Too busy being angry at what you didn't show...only seeing what s/he wants to see...just like the parents.

The teacher's response was every bit as disturbing as the parents'...and for the same reason. When people do not develop the skills to reason and think critically, but instead lash out at those who reveal a serious problem, there is no hope that they will ever learn, much less teach. Just like the parents: the blind leading the blind.

Nora Porter
Port Townsend, Washington

Dear FRONTLINE

I am extremely disturbed by the context of this documentary and feel that it is a must see by all parents of children ages 10 through 18.

... Watching children describe sexual positions with stuffed animals just breaks my heart.

I want to be my child's friend and have a good relationship but this really brings home that I have to set limits and live with the consequences of her dislike of me so be it. It was a very good documentary and I feel every parent should watch this to educate themsleves to what is going on out there. Itis not just Rockdale country it's everywhere. I hope you have a panel of other parents in the future to discuss this. It sends a message to the adolescents that this type of behaviour is not acceptable and that they are accountable for their behaviour and actions. They are not invincible and that there are consequences. These kids have everything, money cars, t/v vcr no curfews. I will live with being the bad guy for a while. My parents did it with me but I am grateful for their perserverance and limits. My other friends had longer leashes and I felt like I was deprived. I was loved. My older son accuses me of being too strict, oh well he's a senior in college and making good grades. Networking with other parents is important and the most important job I have ever had is to raise my two children. I adore them and it's a privilege to have them in my life. But I truly believe they need guidelines and limits and a set of values that you are not afraid to discuss whether they want to hear about it or not. What goes around comes around. This is not a 1999 story, we just have more access to media to deliver stories like the one in Conyers.

Pleae don't let this story die and let's have some more open forums where parents and adolescents can discuss the gravity of this situation. Sex is a beautiful thing with the right person and setting but all the pressure they are under has turned it into going to the garage to have your oil changed and tired rotated. Sad state of affairs. I have always been a stay at home mother and I find it hard. I can't imagine what the corporate mother deals with to keep up some kind of communication with her child. Share some of your own teenage angst with you kids and what it was like for you. Something needs to be done. Children are reaching out and killing other kids because of depression, sexuality realizing they are gay, comitting suicide because they are afraid their famililes will reject them. Children are a gift and they need to know this from the get go. This is not God's agenda for his children, we have to tools to be good parents we are too lazy or just can't be bothered because we don't want to deal with the fights and arugment that will be put up. But we can persevere and stick to our guns and get the respect we deserve and in the end our children will respect themselves for making the right decisions.

Thank you for this documentary and keep up the good work. The school boards would also benefit by recruiting the parents to listen to their children and not just say oh well it's just part of growing up. I never had to face pressures like that and I sure as hell had no boy breaking into my bedroom to "do it". My father would have grounded me for a year and well deserved.

Alpharetta, Ga

Dear FRONTLINE

I would like to make 3 general points after viewing tonight's broadcast:

I was fascinated but not shocked by this report. Has anyone seen a recent issue of MTV's "Loveline" or "The Real World"? If not, check it out for interesting clues on how every type of sexual behavior is openly discussed and entering "vogue". "Loveline" has a resident psychologist, but one wonders if he isn't laughing all the way to the bank as he sits on his "couch" and lectures rather banally to young influential adolescents.

However, I don't think the media is solely to blame- it is the symptom of a deeper cultural problem on the rise in America. As a practicing Buddhist I have been taught to recognize the profound relationship of "cause and effect." It is the causes that these young people are making now that will lead to negative effects unhappiness in the present and future.

Without getting into judging their actions, which I feel is none of my personal concern, I believe the family structure and how it fails to guide its young members, is clearly at the core of the problem. I always ate dinner with my family and never had the influences of sexual deviance the way I witnessed in Rockdale tonight- and I traveled in the more socially active circles.

Times HAVE changed since I went to school in the '80's. And so has the economy: we saw how tonight's mother was forced to go out and start a career, a reality I didn't face although my family was never above the middle economic class.

One final thought: another problem with this Nation is the fact that our media continues to tell us how we are #1. Despite the shootings in high-schools and conduct portrayed in this documentary, we seem never to reach out to other nations in search of advice or to study their older and wiser cultures. I have lived in Japan and Italy and both have superior family units and safer society's than the US. But have we lost appreciation in the value of a safe society with dignity instilled in its people?

My advice to Rockdale and other cities: let's look for the answers from our neighbors whom we so incessantly and self-righteously try to lecture on America's morality. I feel extremely fortunate to have encountered Buddhism in Japan and desire to share its teachings to my fellow Americans. If any in Rockdale are interested, please have them contact me.

John Dunn
Lexington, MA

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