Mary Eberstadt has written an unwelcome book. That doesn't make it any less important or less necessary. But many people will want to look the other way. In "Home-Alone America," Eberstadt confronts us with the consequences of a revolution in American parenting that has left children increasingly deprived of time -- or any relationship at all -- with their mothers and fathers.
This revolution has two causes: "The first is the divorce/illegitimacy explosion -- or what might be called the absent-father problem. The second is what is often the flip side of that explosion, working motherhood -- or the absent-mother problem -- which is sometimes a real choice and sometimes not." Eberstadt exposes the nasty underside of the emphasis on the "lifestyle choices" and personal fulfillment of adults -- at the expense of their kids.
Consider one aspect of juvenile life under this new dispensation -- sexually transmitted diseases. Eberstadt writes: "Of reported cases of chlamydia in 2000, 74 percent occurred in persons age 15 to 24, and that number is judged to be 'a substantial underestimate of the true incidence of chlamydia among young people,' in the words of The Alan Guttmacher Institute. An estimated 11 percent of people age 15 to 24 are infected with genital herpes, and 33 percent of females in the same age group are thought to be infected with human papillomavirus (HPV). This age group is also thought to account for 60 percent of gonorrhea cases. ... Of the 18.9 million new STD cases in the United States in 2000, about 9.1 million, or half, were found in people between the ages of 15 and 24."
That is a paragraph that will make any morally sensate reader queasy. Where are many of these kids having sex? In empty homes. A study in the journal Pediatrics of public-school kids found that 91 percent were having sex in a home setting -- usually after school, when parents aren't around. Absent parents are practically an invitation to early sexual initiation. According to Pediatrics, "Youths who were unsupervised for 30 or more hours per week were more likely to be sexually active compared with those who were unsupervised for 5 hours a week or less."
This is just the beginning of Eberstadt's distressing catalog: