RICHMOND

You can get bewitched, bothered and bewildered from listening to polls. One of the latest, supposedly legitimate, studies finds that Americans blame parents for the recent spate of mass shootings.

The responsibility of parents went right into first place in this one, ahead of taking care of mental health issues or banning assault rifles. Whenever something too awful to be true happens, parents get blamed.

They haven't supervised enough, they haven't spent enough time with their children, they apparently didn't teach them gun safety, along with potty training, saying thank you, running away from strangers who offer candy and other enticements, the importance of homework, the ability to drive defensively and avoidance of drugs, alcohol and unprotected sex.

They also provide food, clothing and shelter as best they are able, drive their offspring to wherever they need to go, coach and/or endure a hundred kids' games a year, lie awake until their teenagers get home, patch up bleeding legs and hands, praise achievements, punish bad behavior and attempt to be simultaneously friendly and formidable.

They want their kids to talk to them when they have a problem, despite the paradoxical role they play as disciplinarian. Parents do all this and much more with no training whatsoever. It's one of the world's hardest jobs, and it's pretty much learned hands-on. For some, the learning curve is so steep that they never master the art in any sophisticated way.


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The second child benefits from the mistakes and successes with the first child, prompting one friend to comment that it would be better to have the second child first. (If you've never been a parent, that comment sounds silly; most parents will understand it perfectly.)

Parenting isn't taught in school. While Pittsfield debates whether or not the Berkshires will need any welders in the near future, no one is setting up mandatory courses in all of the stuff mentioned above, plus where to go when, as a parent, you run out of steam and patience.

And yet, as families split and as fewer parents are home full time with their children, the problem of children's problems has been increasingly dumped on the schools.

And in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., tragedy, it's inevitable that many people are going to look to classroom teachers, school adjustment counselors and guidance counselors to scrutinize their charges for evidence of anything that might indicate the coming of a meltdown.

If any of these school people fail to detect an Eric Harris in time, then they will be blamed, too, along with the parents. Schools are already the front line when it comes to children's problems, responsible not only for education of the child but for his or her mental health, not only for their aptitude but for their attitudes, not only for their attentiveness but for their attention spans.

Since Newtown, they will be expected to be doubly observant. In all too many cases, however, today's parents don't respond positively to any negative or troublesome reports about their children. Lots of them are protective and indulgent, and they side with the kid.

In times gone by, they sided with the teacher - almost always. But the blame game is not the real game. It's a copout, just as giving teachers guns is a copout.

The basic issue that needs to be dealt with immediately is the accessibility of guns. We've made it harder for teens to buy cigarettes and alcohol. We need to make it harder for them to buy or borrow a deadly weapon.

But while the education of parents would be a valuable achievement, it's plain silly to think the present parent culture will be changed in a day. The gun rules, however, can be. Fewer guns, fewer shots, fewer deaths.