Parents Get Failing Grades By Ruben Navarrette, Dallas Morning News January 6, 2005 DALLAS -- Many Americans are confronting their greatest challenge. It's not making a living, making a career for themselves, or making a difference in the world. It's parenthood. Hollywood has picked up the cue. In one current release, "Spanglish," the characters struggle with parenting challenges across the cultural divide. In a forthcoming Vin Diesel movie, "The Pacifier," the muscular protagonist isn't battling bad guys. He's baby-sitting. In researching the role, Diesel could have gotten some advice from real-life parents who, at wit's end, had to go to extreme lengths to control their unruly children. For a lesson about what not to do, there is the woeful example of Cat and Harlan Barnard of Deltona, Fla. Having run out of ideas about how to get their two children to help with household chores, the Barnards recently went "on strike." Cat Barnard said she and her husband had tried every flavor of psychology imaginable. They offered rewards. They withheld allowances. They promised. They threatened. Nothing worked. They should have tried being better parents -- and done it early enough in their children's lives so that it made an impact. I hear it from good parents all the time: Lay down the rules to your kids when they're 5 or pay the price when they're 15. A couple I know requires their two daughters, both in elementary school, to do their own laundry, change their own sheets and wash their own dishes. There was a time when such a thing wouldn't have been considered so extraordinary. Unfortunately today, with housekeepers so common, it is. Maybe I'm being unfair. Maybe the Barnards are perfectly fine parents, but, somewhere along the line, they obviously failed at one part of the job that is pretty important: instilling a sense of discipline and obedience in their children. We're talking about a 12-year-old and a 17-year-old. Either age is old enough for one to know the difference between a home and a hotel, and to long ago have been disabused of the notion that they could skate through childhood and adolescence without taking out the garbage, picking up a broom or mowing the lawn. And why are the parents in exile, while their lazy offspring sleep warm and cozy in their own beds? If anyone should have relocated to the front yard, it's the kids. Or maybe something less severe would have done the trick. Consider the wonderful story of the father in Pasadena, Texas. Fed up with three misbehaving sons, ages 9, 11 and 15, he sold their Christmas presents on eBay. The father said that he and his wife had warned the lads several times to shape up or watch the toys be shipped out. Apparently, the little ones are quite spirited -- fighting with each other, using obscene language and the like. At one point, the oldest went so far as to dare his parents to make good on their threat to sell the gifts. They did. The final touch was when the parents called the naughty boys to a family meeting and showed them what they wouldn't be getting for Christmas: three Nintendo DS video game systems, each loaded with a video game. Those are some pretty nice gifts -- and because of this father's resolve, they will go to needy families in the Houston area. GoldenPalace.com, an online casino based in Antigua, paid more than $5,000 for the three systems and will give them away. The father, who intends to donate the money to his church, has said that he feels rotten that this had to happen. He shouldn't. So often these days, parents are taught to accept their children as they are. What these stories remind us is that parents have a responsibility to do something much more important: teach their children what is -- and isn't -- acceptable. Navarrette is a Dallas Morning News columnist. Contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .