Originally published on Wednesday, December 29, 2010

HALLOWELL — I have worked with families and children for more than 20 years in the state of Maine.

Recently, I was contemplating where all of those well-intentioned parents go once their children reach later school age.

What has happened to all of the parents who were so focused on the importance of giving birth without drugs, breastfeeding, providing only organic baby food and worrying about every stage of their young child’s development?

Concerns over nutrition, proper sleep schedules, taking those first steps, potty training and how their child is performing in preschool seem to reach a fever pitch during these early years.

What I am continually puzzled by is this high interest level appears to disappear rapidly when a child reaches age 5 and goes to school.

Even more alarming is that in many cases, it seems to totally disappear once the child reaches middle school, and concern is almost non-existent at the high school level.

This, at the very time when our teens need as much supervision and guidance as they did when they were 2.

There is no doubt that parenting is a very difficult and challenging responsibility.

However, all of us who signed on for that job of “parent” owe it to our children to follow through on our commitment to them.

Many young people in Maine are not being guided or held accountable by parents for their physical and emotional development once they reach later years. Children as young as third grade are allowed to have cell phones and Facebook pages.

Have parents read about the intellectual and emotional capacity of an 8-year-old to handle such responsibility?

 Obesity is a national epidemic, and for the first time we may have a generation that has a shorter lifespan than their parents.

What has happened to all of the healthy food standards that parents insisted on when the child was under the age of 5?

Why has a son or daughter’s need for physical exercise each day in order to reduce their risk of premature death or chronic obesity-related disease taken a back seat in the book of parental priorities? Just a few years back they were writing in their baby books about their children’s physical achievements.

For all who read “Your Child’s Self-Esteem” and mirrored all of those positive and wonderful things to toddlers, where are they now in continuing the process of supporting their young person’s development of self?

Women and men who protested against the objectification of females 20 years ago are allowing daughters to go to school wearing clothing that looks like the Victoria’s Secret catalog.

Have they spoken to their daughters about the role of image in our culture and how, if she is dressed provocatively, someone is going to perceive her in this manner?

Young men are struggling to come to terms with what it means to be a man in a more gender-equitable society.

Who are those sons’ role models, and why? Parents may be surprised with the answers and what motivates sons’ admiration.

Then there’s the issue of keeping a child safe – remember the safety monitors, the gates on the stairs? True, things change due to the gained skills in self-care.

However, risks are still out there in different forms and with possible greater consequences.

When a child goes to sleepovers, do the parents call beforehand and speak with the parent of the hosting house? Yet, when those children were infants, they probably did extensive checking into every babysitter they were thinking of leaving them with.

Do parents know if a family keeps firearms in their home and if they do, are they locked up? Do other families think it is OK for opposite-sex youth to be alone in a home and unsupervised?

This type of neglect affects every socioeconomic class. Parents either do not want to take an authoritative role, they turn a blind eye, or we are just too tired and stressed to follow through. Just remember, it is OK to say “no” to a child until parents do the research on topics they may not understand in this ever-changing, fast-paced world.

It is OK to take away the cell phone, laptop or TV until a child has done 30 minutes of exercise, or finished their homework. It is OK to be the parent. It is OK to ask for help either from a school guidance counselor, minister or good friend.

Take the time to redevelop the passion we had when we were raising our young children to learn about what is going on with them developmentally and physically.

Not only will we gain a better appreciation for them at these challenging ages, we will come to see that they still need and want our help.

Maine youths are counting on us to show them the way.