Town meeting looks at lessons from Littleton
Parental involvement focus of discussion
April 29, 1999
CHAMPAIGN-URBANA, Illinois (CNN) -- The issue of parents' involvement with their children was the focus of a national town meeting, "Listening After Littleton," held on the University of Illinois campus Thursday and shown nationally on CNN.
CNN's Jeff Greenfield moderated the gathering, which included local parents and students as well as some from Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, the scene of last week's massacre by two teen-age gunmen that left 15 dead.
Many people have asked why the parents of Littleton gunmen Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, didn't know that their teen-agers were making homemade bombs and doing other preparations for the assault.
The question put to those at the town meeting was: Do most parents know about the activities of their children?
Many teen-agers at the meeting said no.
One said his friends hide a lot of little things from their parents, like "any sort of vandalism." He added that parents don't press the issue because they don't want to know.
"A lot of students do things that would absolutely appall their parents," one girl said, including drinking and smoking.
But a young man said it was not right to blame parents because they see so little of their children.
"The parents are at home or at work and we're off doing what we do," said the teen. "So how can we blame the parents when we're never with them?"
A teen-ager who said parents and teachers should monitor what kids access on the Internet, laughed when he was asked if his own father monitored his computer usage. "He tries," he said.
Many participants in the discussion did not blame the media for the killings in Littleton. They said the fault was with the students who picked up the guns.
But a first-grade teacher said violent cartoons and movies have desensitized young children. She said while kids have played "cowboys and Indians" for years, the media has recently intensified scenes of violence, and this intensity is reflected in childrens' games. She said, "They say, Bang-bang -- your guts are falling out! Bang-bang -- I see your brains!'"
A young man commented that the media reinforces the idea that when people get angry, they act out with violence.
Alisha Basore, the best friend of slain Columbine student Rachel Scott, said many factors led up to the massacre. She urged parents to pay attention to their children without becoming too authoritarian.
"If you're a parent, don't make your teen-ager scared to talk to you," Basore said. "Be their best friend, let them tell you their problems without being scared."
Her father, Chris Basore, said he's worked to build paths of communication with his children. He said he doesn't shield them from violence in the media -- he even allowed his son, at age four, to watch the movie "The Exorcist."
"I want them to know what is happening in the world around them. It is not a safe and nice place all the time," said Chris Basore. "I want them to go out into the world with their eyes wide open. I want them to know what people are capable of for their own self-defense."
Columbine employee Karen Nielsen said her town would never have imagined two young men could commit such a terrible act. But she now believes that the same things that led Harris and Klebold to kill are happening in other communities.
"What happened with these two young men was a little bit of everything -- I think it's the media, I think it's the parents -- it's the whole thing that bakes that cake," Nielson said.
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