"Please respect my request for anonymity," said a letter from a troubled mother. "I don't want to embarrass my son by criticizing his peers."
The mother's letter reviewed two news stories that appeared in The Washington Post. One was headlined, "Girl Body Found in Sligo Creek," the other, "Discipline Issue Resurfaces in P.G."
The first story told of a murder victim who had changed from a normal, well-behaved girl into a rebellious child who had been hanging out in a shopping center and smoking marijuana. "This indicates," my correspondent wrote, "that the girl had been a victim of destruction peer pressure."
The second story quoted parents as saying "the mental destruction of the girl" could have been prevented. They charged that school authorities had been "overlooking drug abuse, vandalism and class cutting." But a member of the School Board put the blame right back on parents. He said, "Parents let kids hang around the school until all hours of the night."
My correspondent wrote: "I agree that the primary responsibility lies with parents. But I feel I am a failure. I don't know how to deal with destructive peer pressure.
"My son goes out after dark to 'hang around' with his peers although he knows his parents disapprove. We cannot physically restrain him because he is faster and stronger than we are.
"He constantly tells us, 'None of the other parents ask where their kids are going.' He says the others can stay out as late as they wish, and some of these parents have admitted to me that they no longer attempt to keep track of their children.
"I am not asking for sympathy, I am asking for practical advice. How can parents of average intelligence deal with such peer pressure?"
I am sure there are answers to this question-not one easy answer, perhaps, and not one magic formula that applies to all children and all families. But some things obviously do have an effect on attitudes and actions.
My opinions are now considered old-fashioned, and perhaps they are. Parents who read them must evaluate them - and all theories and opinions of others-for themselves.
I believe that parent should spend more time with their children, and for that reason I deplore an economic system based on multiple incomes. A father ought to be able to make a truly free choice about holding a second job, not a choice dictated by economic necessity. A mother ought to be able to make a truly free choice about working outside the home, not a choice dictated by economic necessity.
I believe that school officials share the responsibility for supervising juvenile conduct. When either school officials or parents try to put most of tthe blame on the other, they proclaim their lack of understanding of the problem. The burden lies with both, just as it lies with both a mother and a father. Neither should have to carry that burden alone. It can be carried most easily when both work together. I believe that government also has a responsibility for helping schools and parents raise children property. post staff writer Judith Valente had a story in Monday's paper that indicated government has begun to recognize the important of its role.
From Judy's story I learned that under Maryland law, a juvenile who causes damage can now be pressured to pay for it. If the offender does not have the money, or will be a long time earning it, his parents are responsible for the first $5,000, with the understanding that the juvenile will repay the debt when he can.
In Montgomery County, parents of juveniles who caused damage have paid heavily to make restitution. In Prince George's County, where many parents have ignored court orders to pay, prosecutors have been instructed to ask for court judgments against parents who fail to settle up.
This means the court can place a lien against any property owned by the parents-house, automobile, bank account, anything. Parents who used to shrug resignedly when a child went out at night are now taking a keen interest in the whereabouts and activities of that child. The argument that "all the other kids" are free of such discipline is now more likely to be met with the rejoinder, "I'm not feeding those other kids. You're the one I'm responsible for."
How does a parent cope with peer pressure? I don't know. If we could unify govnment, parents, schools and religious groups into one common position and then have the guts to stand firm, it would be easy.