The only Littleton antidote: parents

This Just In...

May 12, 1999|By Dan Rodricks

IN THE AFTERMATH of Littleton, with so many fresh anxieties about the secret lives of teens, we find no shortage of experts offering answers, surfing the Web for culprits and pointing their fingers at the usual suspects -- the Internet, Hollywood, the music industry, the National Rifle Association, the media. Scrape it all off, friends. Most of us know the primary influence on kids. It's us. Their parents. It's a scary thought, I know, but can there be much doubt about it?

I'm no expert -- a relative novice at the parent thing -- but I dare say a million hours of video "Doom" can't negate the power of a mother's consistent love. I'll bet on a father's good example over Marilyn Manson any day. The twisted stuff on the Internet is no match for a house filled with the aromas of a home-cooked meal. Violent films are no match for a father's gentle touch. Crude music is no match for honest conversation between parents and kids.

Can a teen-ager develop a dark and brutal outlook on life even in the best of homes? Of course. That's clear by now. Even suburban McMansions don't always have what I'm talking about -- that loving support and good example, day after day, year after year, from parents who take their assignments seriously.

I know what some parents think: We're no match for the dark side. The dark side has glamour. Kids find it cool. Parents are ... parents. We're not glamorous. So our influence is inferior to the big cultural forces that fill a kid's mind these days.

I bring Adam Nemett into today's column now because he affirms the importance of parents at a time when we're groping for answers in all the wrong places.

Nemett and Vadim Polikov, seniors at Pikesville High School, were recipients of scholarships from the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce. Polikov, born in Ukraine and the son of Victoria and Yury Polikov, has been accepted at Duke. Nemett will go to Princeton. Both of them wrote essays and read them yesterday at a chamber breakfast. I'd like to stand aside here and quote Nemett's piece because, in 500 or so honest and sincere words, he made a point all the post-Littleton experts have been missing.

"At this point in my life," Nemett said, "I am unsure of the career path which I will eventually take. Podiatrist, taxidermist, roadside fruit seller, investment banker. Who knows? But I am crystal clear as to the moral path I will take.

"As a pediatric physical therapist at Kennedy Krieger Institute, my mother [Diane Nemett] involves herself in one of the most honorable and unmistakable contributions to society. She helps children. She hugs tearful mothers and fathers who have just watched their handicapped six-year-old walk for the first time. She improves the lives of others in one of the most obvious ways possible.

"My father [Barry Nemett] teaches art. When I was just old enough to join a Wellwood Little League baseball team, my father worried that, amidst a horde of lawyer/doctor Pikesville parents, his own profession would be looked down upon. He only recently admitted this decade-old apprehension to me: that, as a child, I would be penalized because my artist father was not professional enough or connected enough or rich enough to be admired by others. He was wrong.

"However biased this opinion may be, no one was more respected by parents and adored by Little Leaguers than my father -- not because of his wealth or status, but because of his kindness and his appreciation for life. It was not a new Jaguar that impressed everyone, it was his laid-back ability to calm a teary-eyed batter after a strikeout. In a less obvious but equally admirable way, he contributed to the lives around him on that baseball field and does so every day at Maryland Institute, College of Art, one of the best art schools in the country.

"Pushing all job titles aside, my goal for later life is to be in a position to help people think and act differently towards the circumstances which surround them. Perhaps that will translate globally into a job as an environmentalist, encouraging others to be more kind to the natural world. I'll spend time in secluded, unspoiled mountains, learning the intricacies of flora and fauna, teaching people to see the earth from a more sympathetic point of view.

"Or ... not.

"It's possible the muse of writing will catch hold of me. ... Or I could get a job as a clown making balloon animals at birthday parties.

"I just want to join the family business of helping people. Maybe I'll save a life or maybe I'll coach Little League. In either case, it would be an enormous contribution."

Bengies is back

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