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Books & CultureMay/June 2002



How Good Parents Give Up on Their Teens
And why they need to take responsibility for the spiritual nurture of their kids.

Instead of being an icon of homegrown terrorism, John Walker Lindh may go down in history as a poster child for baby-boomer parenting—the legacy of a generation that could not just say no. Lindh grew up in Marin County, California, home of great wealth and great liberalism. Jeff Jacoby wrote in The Boston Globe how again and again Lindhs's parents "affirmed" his decisions: at 14, when he collected the nastiest hip-hop cds; at 16, when he decided to drop out of his alternative high school; and finally, when he became a Muslim after reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X, "grew a beard, and took to wearing long white robes and an oversized skullcap." Indeed, Jacoby writes, "his father was 'proud of John for pursuing an alternative course' and his mother told friends that it was 'good for a child to find a passion.'" The Lindhs even paid for John to move to Yemen to learn "pure" Arabic and then to Pakistan to join a madrassah of radical Muslims.

"Even when it was clear that their son was sinking into Islamist fanaticism," Jacoby writes,

they wouldn't pull back on the reins. When Osama bin Laden's terrorists bombed the USS Cole and killed 17 American servicemen, Walker e-mailed his father that the attack had been justified, since by docking the ship in Yemen, the United States had committed "an act of war." Lindh now says that the message "raised my concerns"—but that didn't stop him from wiring Walker another $1,200. After all, says Dad, "my days of molding him were over."

The Lindhs represent an extreme version of the baby-boomer permissiveness that is coming home to roost in a generation of teenagers and young adults who seem more troubled, more lost than previous generations. The case of John Walker Lindh raises the question ...

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