Best prevention for violence is committed parenting mixed with lots of love

The Baltimore Sun

By this time, you are probably wondering: "Why haven't I seen Janet interviewed on Larry King Live regarding the Virginia Tech shootings?"

It is a darn shame the broadcast media do not traditionally contact humor columnists for commentary on national tragedies.

But my point is, when the coverage of the funerals is over, we will be asking ourselves, what can we do to prevent this sort of thing? And I think I know the answer.

I have no training in security, but I know it is not gun control.

I have no training in psychology, but I know it is not - at least initially - counseling.

I have no training in education, but I know it is not a nationwide violence-prevention program at the grade-school level.

I believe the answer is committed parenting.

Parenting is the most important job we take on with absolutely no training, except for what we learn by observing our parents.

In my case, I took a lot of mental notes on what I assuredly was not going to do if I ever became a parent. I would never prohibit television. I would never make my kids be the only ones not allowed to do something or go somewhere. I would never make them march over to Mrs. Voltz's and apologize for cutting through her yard on a bicycle.

Frankly, I have done all these and worse. Because only when I got to be a parent myself, and was faced with raising several of what my mother wished on me ("a child with a mouth like yours"), did I fully comprehend that my parents were, well, essentially right.

And so here, briefly, is their method. I'm sharing it because - though the Janet's World final data are not yet in - early results are encouraging:

1. Engage your children from the start. Yes, it is boring to talk to a 2-year old, but it is your job. Play "I spy." Count his toes. The point is, interact. I want to cause a scene whenever I see parents in public places involved with their laptops or newspapers while their child sits beside them, alone. Luckily I have a humor column and can vent here: "Hey, you are ignoring your child! To build a relationship, you need to demonstrate that your child is valued from the start."

2. Give your time. Volunteer. Get involved in some way at your child's school. Get to know his friends. Build a community.

3. Help your child get used to disappointment, early and often. Don't try to "fix it." This goes for broken toys all the way up to teenage break-ups. Model the behavior that human beings can withstand all forms of devastating loss and failure. That way, when you are not around, they will hear a strong inner voice telling them they can make it.

4. Limit television and other forms of passive entertainment. Would you send your second-grader to party with Paris Hilton? If not, monitor time in front of the television and PC. Real relationships require face-to-face communication; don't surrender your influence to a flat screen.

5. Encourage your child to get a job. Start with small chores, work up to part-time jobs and summer internships. Your child will be empowered by the confidence he receives from earning something entirely on his own.

6. Be a parent, not a friend. It seems odd to have to say this, but correct inappropriate or illegal behavior. No freak dancing in my kitchen. No gossiping on my telephone. No alcohol in my backyard.

7. Get help if necessary. We all have instincts, and if we sense that something is still not right after embracing steps 1 through 6, we should seek counseling, support groups or medical intervention for our children or ourselves. I have only compassion for the parents of Seung-Hui Cho, who might have benefited from a helping hand early on.

Of all the experts who have been quoted on dealing with the aftermath of this tragedy, I believe John, Paul, George and Ringo said it best: "All you need is love."

Love may be the only salve for the serious societal wounds inflicted by the shootings at Virginia Tech - and the best preventive measure, too.

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