A Generation of Abandonment

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A Generation of Abandonment

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Accompanying children's search for meaning in violent entertainment is the disintegration of the institution of fatherhood.

Although the average American child watches 220 minutes of television a day, he spends only three to eight minutes face to face with his father—if he happens to live with his father. In the absence of a father, television is raising many of our children.

About one in four children grow up with a single mother and another quarter with a mother and stepfather. But even children with natural fathers who live with them are often profoundly neglected. Struggling with ignorance of child-nurturing skills, many fathers unknowingly lay the groundwork for a national mental-health crises. Most people are unaware of the connection between deteriorating psychological health, the absence of strong, loving fathers and youth violence.

An epidemic of mental illness in children leaves children, especially boys, prone to violent behavior.

Kip Kinkle, the 15-year-old who admitted to gunning down 22 students in Oregon, was diagnosed with attention-deficit-and-hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and a learning disability when he was 11. New York developmental psychologist Myriam Miedzian noted the boy had "easy access to guns but not to effective treatment."

"ADHD is six to nine times as prevalent among boys than among girls, mental retardation nearly twice as prevalent, autism three times and conduct disorder four to 12 times as prevalent" said Dr. Miedzian. "As a result, boys are at greater risk for violent behavior."

From 1975 to 1990 the percentage of youths in the United States in need of professional mental health services nearly doubled, from 10 percent to 18 percent, said James Garbarino, Family Life Development Center director at Cornell University.

Some psychologists estimate 40 percent of the jail population and 30 percent of delinquent boys suffer from learning disabilities. "Not only do most high-risk children go untreated, they see more than 10,000 TV murders by the age 18," said Dr. Miedzian.

Not all of these trends in deteriorating youth mental health are attributed to genetic factors. Some believe that young children, when lied to and disappointed enough by care-givers, develop a kind of schizophrenia.

In a process called "crazymaking," children who are told they are loved by abusive or negligent parents learn to disassociate themselves from primary relationships. This can happen to children of wealth as well as children of poverty. Some experts see those youth obsessed with television exhibiting characteristics of attachment disorder, with television becoming their main reference in life. GN