By Father Leonard Peterson

They twitter and tweet
their gang to meet
Other kids for a bash
but headed for clash.

And clash they did
like all mobs will
with rules and rulers.
It sent a chill.

So how to end it
before a trend set?
An answer not bad:
it’s both Mom and Dad.

If you dear readers will forgive my lame attempt at poetry, I am referring above to the new headline-grabbing phenomenon called “flash mobs.” They were a bit of a shock when they happened twice so far in our fair city, and it is only natural that thinking people look for causes and solutions.

The civil authorities have weighed in, with Mayor Nutter asking parents if they know where their children are. The police have done the same, and Commissioner Ramsey has also laid the problem right at the feet of the same group, namely parents. {{more}}

I perked up at the mention of parents partly because I received a rather nasty e-mail some months ago charging that I as a celibate know nothing about parenting, and should not blame them for disrespect in church. Occupational hazard for a writer, I suppose.

But that angry e-mailer forgot that writers have or had parents too. Both of mine are now hopefully in heaven, but here below they were charter members of what we now call “the old school.” They had to know where I was at all times, and they would never tolerate some of the misbehavior that takes place at Mass.

Besides that, the e-mailer could not know that I stand on almost two-and-a-half decades of teaching and observing high school and college students. That at least gives me the ability to draw some conclusions about the behavior of young people, good and bad. I say clearly: parents are by nature and nurture the real keys to it all. If they’re permissive now with their toddlers, they’ll reap the whirlwind later.

Yet to give good parents their due, I believe there is an insidiously subtle demon stalking the cultural landscape. It undermines the best parenting, and hurts us all. It wreaks havoc on family life without us always noticing. It is our economy.

I am not necessarily limiting myself to the current recession, although that’s on most people’s minds just now. What I mean by blaming the economy for young people’s misbehavior is that in many cases, Mom and Dad aren’t around as much as they used to be.

They both trek out the door five or even six days a week to toil for eight or more hectic hours for a paycheck that may or may not be enough. They are doing it these days, not for luxuries, but for the basics of food, clothing and shelter.

As a result, an awful lot of our kids are practically raising themselves and that spells trouble with a capital “T”.

We have all laughed at Ferris Bueller’s adventures, but they were all based on a lie. Lying is wrong. Nowadays the Internet sets young people up for trouble when it gives entrée to a cyberworld that exudes and exalts violence. It never says that’s wrong.

I’m no psychologist, but I have to wonder if that kind of exposure, mixed with absentee parents, is the perfect setup for a lonely generation wanting to strike back at somebody or something. When a cell phone enables one such angry youngster to connect with another, and another and another in a flash, you’ve got the mob. There is false courage in every crowd, and behavior out of character becomes the norm. Haven’t you wondered what trashing a street or overturning a car has to do with celebrating a sports championship?

The solution to precluding flash mobs is out there. It’s not just more cops on South Street. It’s not just policing Wall Street. The solution is in the heeded wisdom of good people. I find mine in the words of a certain Man from Galilee who only asks that we pay attention and take action.

Father Peterson is pastor of St. Maria Goretti Parish in Hatfield.