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Now that summer has drawn to a close, a collective sigh of relief could be heard coming from many parents as their children returned to the classroom. I've heard many moms describe the late-June to early September period as though it were some sort of parental purgatory.

One woman explained it quite succinctly: "Thank God September's here. My son needs to start learning again!" Yet another bemoaned the fact that she was sick and tired of "entertaining" her three children.

How sad. When I was a child, my mother cared little whether I and my two brothers were entertained or amused during our summer vacations. She had absolutely no inclination to fill up every waking moment with swimming lessons, arts-and-crafts outings, day camps, vacation Bible schools and the like. She knew that simply spending time with her would provide many invaluable life lessons.

Mother was light years ahead of many modern educators, having realized that learning did not stop once summer recess began. Year-round schooling was a fact of life.

Whether teaching us something so precise as the proper way to prepare foods for canning or the more intangible art of expressing neighborly kindness, vacations were packed with many different types of instruction.

When mom went off to work her part-time job, "Nana" and a kindly neighbor took us under their grandmotherly wings and taught us some of the traditions and talents from their generation, like crocheting, golumbki making and gardening. How blessed we were to have such guidance. Dad and our grandfathers, meanwhile, made sure we learned the value of hard work and personal responsibility.

Many parents today seem to either underestimate or misunderstand the influence they can and should have upon their children. Modern schools have increasingly become "surrogate" parents, saddled with the growing burden of correcting and controlling behavioral problems. Many parents act as though much of life should be taught through the use of so-called experts. Gone are the days when mother or father knew best. Children are routinely shuffled off to this lesson and that in the belief that formal instruction outside the home is somehow more important. In doing so, many children are cut off from opportunities to become well-rounded citizens.

More and more we are seeing children who can be very good at one particular thing -- be it mastering a musical instrument or playing a sport -- yet often lacking the social graces, the moral commitment to others and the sense of community service that have been the hallmarks of previous generations. Many children haven't a clue what it means to sacrifice of one's self.

I've met numerous teenagers who have never held a hammer, turned a screw or sifted a cup of flour. Today's parents seem too busy to teach their children many of life's little nuances that will allow them to be self-sufficient. In turn, children are becoming extremely dependent upon others to meet basic needs they should be responsible for. What will the future hold for their offspring?

This is not an indictment against all outside learning opportunities. Many school programs and extracurricular activities do quite well at teaching skills such as discipline, teamwork and the like. But we must not continue to give parental guidance short shrift. It is an essential component for the creation of healthy and happy children. Time with our children needs to become an integral part of our lives. The skills parents can impart are lasting treasures to share with our children. These precious lessons cannot be found in the classroom.

DEBRA A. SKOK WATSON is a licensed child and family therapist, a parent and the interim president of the Town of Clarence Youth Center board of directors.

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