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The Commerce News
November 10, 1999

On 'The Lost Children Of Rockdale County'
The teenagers of Rockdale County say they have had enough publicity following Georgia Public Television's airing of "The Lost Children of Rockdale County." The documentary exposed a horror in which hundreds of children 12 to 18 participated in drunken sex orgies that led, among other things, to 17 reported cases of syphilis.
On screen for all Georgians to view were 13-20-year-olds telling about parties that involved drunken group sex, children revealing lifestyles in which parental absence seemed the norm.
Asking for a new "documentary" to tell about the rest of the kids of Rockdale County is a bit like Egypt Air asking for equal time devoted to all of its safe landings following last week's crash off Nantucket. That isn't the way news works.
"The Lost Children of Rockdale County" tells an amazing and sick story. It should be required watching for every parent, because it vividly shows what can happen when parents spend more of their energy trying to attain the "good life" of material possessions than in taking care of their children. Given the demographics of Rockdale County, it is likely that the parents of the "lost" children are family values, conservative Republicans whose own morals, when it comes to sexuality, are of mainstream America. But they were asleep at the helm in their community.
It was only after the documentary aired that parents and other young people wanted to be heard. Public health officials had earlier tried to call attention to what was going on, but only 50 parents attended a public meeting, and most of them could not understand that the absence of good parenting was the root of the trouble. Most of them seemed oblivious to what was going on.
It is hard in this community to imagine that a 15-year-old could throw a party for 30 to 40 friends at which so much alcohol was served that all participants were roaring drunk; that an incredibly wild party could take place in the middle of a subdivision and no adult be aware of it. It is hard to imagine that parents could be unaware that their children were regular smokers, hard to imagine that children could repeatedly come home drunk and their parents not ever notice. It is hard to imagine that one child or more did not get cited for DUI, tipping at least one set of parents off that something was amiss.
It is to be hoped that citizens of Rockdale County are embarrassed and even angry, but their anger should be directed at their community and themselves. Those whose children were part of the scandal should be especially humiliated; the others should learn from the documentary that children are at risk when Mom and Dad abdicate responsibility. Providing a child with designer clothing, a sleek new car, cellular phones and unlimited money does not fulfill the requirements of parenting. Attention, supervision, communication and companionship are all part of what it means to love a child. And all are more important than providing a child with every material item the child fancies.
The real horror of the Rockdale County story is that there are absentee parents all across America. Few of their children will likely end up in the wild debauchery that occurred in Rockdale County, but any time children are left unsupervised day after day, week after week, the potential is great for disaster.
"The Lost Children of Rockdale County" should be required watching for parents. It is a wake-up call to all parents, but especially to those in Rockdale County. Maybe GPTV should come back for a follow-up ­ in about three years to see what parents have done to make sure the problem does not continue. And if the glare of statewide publicity seems too bright for the residents of Rockdale County, they would be wise to put the blame on those people whose actions caused the publicity. They don't have to look far.

Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
November 10, 1999

Not Counting
On Acquiring
Real Wealth
A poll released recently found that 27 percent of Americans think winning the lottery is their best chance at obtaining wealth for their retirement years. I am not surprised.
Indeed, winning the lottery is my best chance of obtaining wealth as well. Fortunately, I am not counting on being wealthy.
Don't get me wrong, I'm as materialistic as the next guy. I'd love to have the money to buy a new truck whenever I wanted, to finance fishing vacations to exotic locals and to acquire an estate in the country.
I'd like all those things, but I don't desire them enough to work as hard as it would take to acquire them or to buy them at the expense of our savings.
The U.S. Census Bureau says that the median savings of American families was just $1,000, and that includes stocks, bonds, etc. That means half American families have more and half less. Only 47 percent of those surveyed said saving and investing are the most reliable means of attaining wealth.
Most Americans really don't covet wealth; they want the trappings of wealth, the nice homes, the ability to travel, gadgets and gizmos, name brand clothing, SUVs for everyone in the family. To acquire them, a lot of people are in debt up to their ears. The average balance on a MasterCard is supposedly over $2,000.
That means, not only are Americans not saving, but they're also incurring debt. In just the last 10 years, look what has become "necessary" to live in America: Internet service, $20 per month; dedicated phone line for the computer, $20; cable TV, $25; cell phone, $20. Suddenly, the cost of living is up by $85 per month, just for communication and entertainment.
Having things is more popular than saving to buy them later or saving for retirement. Society pushes us to possess; it pressures us to be in style and cool. Most people can't meet that demand and put aside savings too. As one who would rather have a few dollars in the bank than that new boat, I may be in the minority.
Jackson County residents over age 18 spent an average of $304 each on lottery tickets in 1988. None of them won $500,000. I don't know what percentage of county residents play the lottery regularly, but if it is half, then those people are spending more than $600 a year on average in pursuit of prizes against astronomical odds.
People spending that kind of money to play the lottery clearly are not good stewards of their money. For most of them, winning the lottery probably is their best chance at acquiring a half million bucks, since they're prone to bad financial decisions. Given that their chance of winning the lottery is one in 10 million, a lot of people will have nothing in the bank when they can no longer work.
There are countless opportunities to put money aside for the future, but for many, having things now is more important. The lottery gives them the ability to fantasize about gaining sudden wealth, but fantasy won't pay the phone bill or buy groceries.
Winning the lottery would be fine, but I'm not the sort to spend money on odds that long. And since I'm not willing to make the effort to acquire real wealth, I'll have to learn to be content with what I have.

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