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bob maginnis - 4/15/01

April 13, 2001

What we learn as children...



By Bob Maginnis


If there's anything I hate to do, even for a good cause, it's ask people for money. And so the prospect calling 50 to 75 people I didn't know during last Saturday's Parent-Child Center Telethon was something I was looking forward to about as much as a toothache.

The night before we went out to dinner in a family restaurant along Hagerstown's Dual Highway. In the booth across from us sat a lean young man drinking a beer and talking with what appeared to be his wife and young daughter.

Up to the table ran a boy who looked to be about 8, a smaller version of the man. He'd fed all his quarters into the eatery's video games and wanted more. But dad was not pleased that the coins had been lost so quickly and was not inclined to give the boy any more.

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But video games being the addictive things that they are, the boy continued to plead, and after about 30 seconds dad had had enough. He stood up, picked up the boy by his shirt and the seat of his pants and threw him into the booth like a sack of potatoes.

"Get your g____d____ed a__ in there," he said.

The boy cowered in the booth, his hands up next to his tiny horn-rimmed glasses.

"You've bit off more than you can chew if you're going to defy me," said the man. The boy whimpered something in a voice I couldn't hear, and at this sign of submission, the man seemed to relax and their meal went on without incident, although the boy continued to watch him warily.

Was this just a bad day, a weary father's overreaction at the end of a hard week? You'd like to think so, but during my association with the Parent-Child Center, I've come to realize that it's something else, something called "learned behavior."

Everyone raised in a family of any sort picks up habits and skills. In some families, parents teach their sons and daughters how to catch a baseball or how to play games like tag or hide-and-go-seek. In other families, boys and girls learn that it's all right to beat a child who displeases them. And what we're talking about is punching and kicking, not just a few slaps on the behind.

You'd think that a child who'd been beaten severely would resolve never to do such a thing to their own children. But when a child is raised that way, they come to believe that's the way it's done. And when their own child is misbehaving, what they learned as children is what they dish out as adults.

To break that cycle of abuse, the Parent-Child Center offers a variety of services, including free parenting classes, help in navigating the juvenile-court system and a program that places volunteers with at-risk families to teach them parenting skills. There's also a program for new mothers called "Right from the Start," which teaches teen mothers that to grow up healthy, babies need to be hugged, played with and read to.

Some of these young mothers have done so well they've become volunteers in another Parent-Child Center program called "Teen Voices, Teen Choices." These young moms will come to any school that will let them in and tell other young people that cuddly little babies also cry, dirty their diapers and, for the first few years at least, take up almost all of a parent's free time.

To fund all these services, the center holds a variety of services, including the annual telethon which brought in $135,981 last Saturday.

Executive Director Millie Lowman said she was "overwhelmed at the generosity of the people of Washington County."

Perhaps people are so generous because, like me, they see little children knocked around and know that what we see on the street is probably a lot less than what happens behind closed doors.

Because I can't confront everyone I see who seems abusive, I've worked with the Parent-Child Center for the past 10 years. If you'd like to help, the center's address is 115 W. Washington St., Hagerstown, Md., 21740, or you can call (301) 791-2224 for more information.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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