If there ever was a case to be made against the therapeutic approach to childrearing—packaged as “parenting” by three decades of child psychologists—the pathetic image of four aging, 1970’s-era radicals, who gave themselves the silly name “Symbionese Liberation Army,” was it.  I cannot help but wonder how differently the lives of Michael Bortin, William Harris, Kathleen Soliah (a.k.a. Sara Jane Olson), and Emily Montague might have turned out had they been blessed with an earlier, less “understanding” generation of parents—adults not afraid to put their foot down on youthful excess.

Today, of course, the war against authority has come full circle.  The kiddie subculture of popularity as it first appeared in the mid-1950’s has morphed from Gidget to gross-out and gangsterism.  And it extends to ever-younger age groups—with ever-deadlier consequences.  A child’s smallest whim, no matter how fleeting or ludicrous, is deemed worthy of serious debate.  Little Johnny wants to flush his teddy bear down the commode?  Let’s discuss it.  

The SLA bunch came of age in that period between the 50’s and the 70’s, when children were first intoxicated with their own importance.  Bortin, Harris, Soliah, Montague, and James Kilgore, their colleague in mayhem, were nothing more than immature, overgrown teen-agers who didn’t have enough to do.  All that mush about “bourgeois” values, antiwar activism, and rage against “fascist insects” was simply an attention-getting device.  What these young people were really saying was: “Look at me!  Look at me!”

Their great-grandparents, had they been around, would have recognized this phase and packed these brats off to Grand-dad’s farm to work off some of that hyperventilation and fervor.  After a little isolation from their peers and hard, physical labor humbled them, they might have been allowed to continue their education—on their own dime, which is always good insurance against getting into trouble.

Now that the four have grown up, been brought to justice, and been convicted, they and others like them—Leslie van Hooten comes to mind—understand their errors only too well.  Van Hooten, a 1967 high-school cheerleader, was once the epitome of all-American cute.  As a Charles Manson protégé, however, she helped stab actress Sharon Tate some ten times and has languished in prison since 1969.  Repeatedly seeking parole, to no avail, Van Hooten has admitted that she can hardly stand to think about the events that put her where she is today or about how naive, insolent, and pompous she was even during her trial.  Manson, a perpetually inebriated, charismatic thug, talked her and others into drug-and-sex orgies.  She has said that, if Manson had told them they were all “little fairies that had suddenly sprouted wings,” they all would have believed him.  Pushing age 50, she is probably telling the truth.

The recently convicted SLA members are making similar comments, tearfully recalling their arrogant behavior and the grief they caused victims and their families.  Despite what is in store for them, all admit to being somewhat relieved to have been caught.  Emily Harris says that “not a day went by” over the past 25 years that she did not recall her actions with deep regret.

What the child “experts” cannot seem to get through their heads is that the Harrises, Soliahs, Bortins, and Van Hootens are not, and were not, mentally ill.  They were not abused or traumatized children from bad homes, either; they were just smart hooligans.  Most were followers, desperate to be popular and noticed, and easily led by a stronger, charismatic personality into pursuing make-believe games.  But the game called “Let’s Be Revolutionaries” got out of hand.  Assassination, kidnapping, and pipe bombings cried out for a mature, authoritative adult with the strength of character to break up the group, stop the behavior, and channel the SLA’s loose energies in another direction.

Instead, these kids were given professional agitators—countercultural entertainers and leftist professors who egged them on.  They were duped by trained propagandists who knew how to identify young firebrands and push the buttons of rebellion.  The real ringleaders are always adults—all guilty of contributing to the delinquency of minors—acting behind the scenes and through third parties to ensure that their younger charges take the fall.

After these drugstore radicals had exhausted their repertoire of atrocities and grown up, those who were not permanently damaged by drugs changed their attitudes.  Most moved quickly to change their identities and localities and set about leading the types of middle-class lives they had once belittled, becoming (variously) spouses, parents, a flooring contractor, an actress in a community theater, a volunteer, even a private eye.

The trouble is, they really did hurt people.  Their victims have paid an awful price—some still living, more than 30 years later, with painful and debilitating injuries—which is why there can be no statute of limitations on such crimes.

None of the news accounts mentioned how the SLA members’ parents might be feeling now.  I suspect a few privately wish that the nincompoops who dished out the parenting advice could somehow be brought to justice, too.

These parents, like all postwar parents, were advised that youngsters “have a right to make their own mistakes” and “a right to their own values.”  After just 15 years of such foolishness, children became noticeably bolder.  Sent to their rooms for unacceptable conduct, many teenagers loaded up their backpacks and climbed out the window.  As a young teacher in those years, I saw exasperated parents whose attempts to salvage their children with a strengthened disciplinary regimen were usually too little, too late.  Typically, the result was a sudden blowup, ending with their kids being, in effect, subsidized to leave home for good.

Child psychologists, including school guidance counselors, have served as “useful idiots” in the ongoing leftist war to undermine free societies.  Back in the 50’s, parents were first admonished to let toddlers “express themselves,” no matter how inappropriately, lest they become “inhibited” and “rigid.”  Parents who balked were characterized as controlling, dogmatic, and uptight.

Scores of articles from the 50’s and 60’s urged parents to “stop giving kids the FBI treatment”—that is, stop demanding to know who your children are playing with, where they are going, and whether a responsible adult will be present.  Instead, parents were supposed to give their kids “space.”  Parenting books and articles castigated parents for “snooping” in their teenagers’ belongings, for being judgmental and inflexible, for moralizing and lecturing.  Kids had “a right to privacy” and “wouldn’t listen anyway.”

Now, 35 years later, government-sponsored ads tell parents that they are the “Anti-Drug,” that kids really do listen and want adults to set limits.  A Dartmouth Medical School study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics even demonstrated that parents’ lectures have a “positive impact” on such teenage behaviors as smoking and drug use—even when parents themselves engage in such activities!  “Parents underestimate their influence . . . [and] have an overly heightened concern about coming down hard on their kids . . . ,” reported Dr. James Sargent, associate professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth.

This apparent reversal, however, has not filtered down to university departments of education and psychology, let alone to public-school teachers and most parents.  Mothers are still being advised that their offspring are better off in daycare than at home, so they will be “socialized” and “ready to learn.”  Federal and state education agencies continue to call for more early-childhood programs.

From a psychologist’s point of view, it may seem necessary to pitch such “diseases” as hyperactivity and attention-deficit disorder—along with the obligatory drug du jour—to cover for the fact that 40 years of idiotic parenting advice has produced a generation that never acquired the mental discipline to focus.  Rarely admonished to finish anything they started and overstimulated with a succession of nonstop games, extracurricular activities, and entertainment, young adults have become so distracted that they find concentration an overwhelming chore.  Predictably, they cannot help their own children to focus, and they accept the bogus diagnoses as gospel.

Psychologists have taken the next step, claiming that most behaviors are hardwired, so parents should not agonize over something they cannot help.  Conscience, guilt, and shame are deemed dangerous to mental health.  Regular behavioral screening, together with up-to-date psychological profiles of each child, are supposed to identify any potential Symbionese Liberation Army-types.  These devices turn out to be about as helpful as the criminal profiles circulated on the Beltway snipers who terrorized Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia for almost a month before police finally arrested two black Islamic males who bore no resemblance to the profiles.

The latest fad is to blame children’s unformed character on “a biochemical im-balance in the brain,” which has spawned a new field known as bio-psychiatry.  The Columbine killers (and the notorious child shooters in Kentucky, Oregon, and California) were all on drugs for their so-called chemical imbalances before they put holes through their classmates, teachers, or parents.

Parents who take the “experts’” advice have developed a schizophrenic approach to rearing children.  On the one hand, they have been subjected to ads and research reversing, even attacking, the permissive wisdom of the postwar experts.  On the other, they face the ugly specter of child-advocacy extremism, especially prevalent on public-school campuses, which strips away the last vestiges of their authority.

Child advocacy emerged as a reaction to parental abdication.  Motherhood itself was denigrated as demeaning.  Worse, zealots in the schools brooked no interference in matters relating to controversial sex education, religious expression, and programs promoting their leftist political agenda.  As parents were increasingly told that what happened to their children at school was none of their business, many of them grew weary of the constant battles with school staff and acquiesced.  You want to raise my kids?  Fine.  Take them.  The result was conveniently interpreted by a new generation of experts as “child neglect,” which left the child in need of an “advocate.”

Strict parents remain pariahs because strictness is indelibly linked to evil authoritarianism.  This charge, passed along to them by their leftist mentors, was the message of the young SLA-era protesters. 

Today’s student demonstrators, who periodically vent their spleen whenever dignitaries meet in Seattle or Washington, D.C., carry none of the “conscience” and righteous indignation—misguided or not—of even the poorly informed SLA-era protesters.  Only the ritual yelling, chanting, vandalism, and brawling are the same.

But with the SLA outlaws now sitting in cells, devoid of political passion or cries for social justice, questions remain for their contemporaries fortunate enough to be reading of their capture and conviction instead of sitting in their place.  Is the cause of freedom and our children’s future being served by continuing to rely on the pronouncements of child experts, including their representatives in the schools and government?  Should child psychology retain any credibility?  Would it perhaps have been kinder for the parents of a Leslie van Hooten or an Emily Harris to have yanked their kids out of school and even chained them to their beds, if necessary—with food and water and specified “bathroom breaks,” as in a jail—until they showed some measure of common sense?

Overly harsh?  Child abuse?  Perhaps we should ask the once-great radicals of the SLA.