- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 28, 2006

Every headline on American teens seems to read “more” of something: more sex, more fat and more violence. Where are the headlines I want to read? America’s kids have more faith, more values and more self-discipline.

I was raised with clear principles. I am responsible for my own actions. I am not entitled to anything I don’t earn. I have compassion for those who need help but no patience for those who won’t help themselves. I believe everyone deserves the same opportunity to achieve the American dream.

I chose a law enforcement career because protecting the public embodies my respect for my community and country.

When more than half of American teenagers ages 15 to 19 have engaged in oral sex, when there has been a tripling of young people who are overweight since 1980, when teen gang homicides have increased more than 40 percent, when half of America’s 17-year olds have tried an illicit drug, kids are growing up without respect for themselves or others.

When and where do we start instilling the self-discipline and responsibility in our children so they grow up to become productive adults, complete school, get a job, get married, support their families and obey the law? The best time is when children are young and the best places are with parents and competent adults.

A child’s early years are the most crucial. Each year is a leap in their emotional, intellectual and moral growth. In those years, their moral compass is set. In those years, discipline is instilled guiding children to abide by rules of behavior. In those years, the seeds of conscience are planted to act responsibly.

Parents set the rules and the example for their children’s moral development. I learned from my parents and I teach my children. Yet, some of America’s families are a mess: Parents can’t manage their kids, and their kids are out of control.

And we know what a bad apple can do to a basket of good ones. That’s where a community of responsible adults can support parents and give the help they need to prepare their kids to become accountable adults. However, our communities — faith-based and nonsectarian — lack the public investment to reach America’s broken families.

Who can we hold accountable for helping these troubled parents and their children? I’ve seen firsthand that caring, faithful and trained teachers in my community’s preschools are helping at-risk parents by providing the fundamentals of learning and conscience. I was skeptical any place other than home was right for young kids. But, I’ve learned preschool works for the kids from problem homes. It narrows the gap in learning letters, words and numbers and reduces the need for special education. Kids who attended preschool were less likely to be held back in school and more likely to graduate from high school, get a job and earn more than kids who did not attend. Girls in preschool also had fewer teen pregnancies than girls left out. And, the crime benefits are also clear: At-risk children who didn’t go to preschool were 5 times likelier to be arrested by age 27 than kids who did go.

Preschool teachers or government will never replace mothers and fathers acting in the best interest of their kids. This is why preschool is voluntary. Yet, struggling at-risk families can always use an extra hand in helping them.

In Proverbs 22:6, we read: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”

Our generation needs to invest in preschool for parents and their children to ensure the next generation gets the guidance and learning crucial to turn from a child to a responsible, disciplined and law-abiding adult.

JOHN WERDEN

Carroll County Attorney, St. Carroll, Iowa.

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