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Are Parents To Blame?

Are Parents To Blame?The parents of John Walker Lindh have come under fire for their son's actions -- but a Tufts child development expert told CBS that the blame is misdirected.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.28.02] When young adults commit serious crimes, should their parents share some of the blame? That's one of the heavily debated questions emerging from the case of so-called "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, who has received unconditional support from his parents since his capture. Though the public can hold Lindh accountable for his actions, his parents shouldn't come under fire as well, a Tufts child development expert told CBS' Early Show.

"I think the easy part is after something terrible has happened to say, 'Oh, [his parents] should have known," Tufts' Barney Brawer told the Early Show' Bryant Gumbel in a live interview on Friday morning.

But parents don't have the luxury of hindsight.

"How many of us knew what was happening in Afghanistan?" Brawer said. "How many of us, three years ago, had a sense of who al-Qaida was?"

Mistakes, big and small, are easy to make, and every parent makes them.

"I think we need to have humility, and as parents, we all have made mistakes," Brawer, an expert at Tufts' Eliot Pearson Department of Child Development, told Gumble. "We all struggle to decide what's right. And I think we need to understand it's no different when someone's child has done something that gets them in the news because it was so terrible."

When parents watch their children struggling, it can be even more difficult to figure out the best way to help their child, the Tufts expert said.

"I think we have to have compassion for the complexity of being a parent and the struggle that parents have, particularly if you have a son or daughter who's troubled, who's questioning, who's searching, and trying to find out who he is and what his life is about," Brawer told CBS. "It's not easy."

It happens more than most people realize.

"There's no shortage of young people out there -- you go to any high school and ask the principal, the guidance counselors, they'll give you a list of names of kids they worry about," said Brawer, a former high school principal. "And what we do is after an event, we act as if everyone should have known, when, in fact, if you go out to schools and to families and talk to parents, they are struggling, they're trying to figure out."

A parent himself, Brawer said he was faced with many of the same questions and uncertainties when his daughter traveled to Europe.

"My daughter traveled through Europe by herself and it was the most wonderful thing she ever did," he told the Early Show. "And she went to some places -- she went to East Germany. She went to places like the Czech Republic that I know very little about, and it was extraordinarily terrific for her to do that. Did we know in advance? No. Did we worry? Yes."

At a certain point, children start making their own decisions -- whether or not their parents approve.

"I think we need to understand at a certain age, we did things that our parents didn't want us to do," he said. "At a certain point, you have to decide -- and it's not an easy decision -- when you say it's time to leave the nest."

Images courtesy of Associated Press and Reuters.

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