The other day I was in the mall and I spotted a girl of about 15 sporting a T-shirt with big pink letters announcing “I make good boys BAD”. I assumed, by her choice of attire, that she wished to advertise the fact that she was a nymphomaniac sexual predator. But in watching her, I also assumed a lot about her parents.
To begin with, I’m pretty sure they’re not that involved in her life. No self-respecting adult would let a child don that shirt. Whichever adults are on the scene, then, it’s obvious they either think it’s funny—in which case they have no right to call themselves parents—or they’ve given up. That’s just teen culture, and what can we do about it? I’d rather not make a scene. And that’s just sad, because our kids deserve more.
A lot of parents have thrown in the towel, many without realizing it, because they’ve forgotten their primary purpose. It is not to be your child’s friend. It is not to make your child like you. It is not to make your child’s life easy. It is to raise your child to behave responsibly, morally, and eventually independently. Often we believe our kids will just develop this by osmosis. Keep them safe and feed them, and they’ll be okay. They may make some mistakes along the way, but everything will turn out fine.
I’m not so sure that’s true. If we take a hands off approach, I think it’s likely things may turn out much worse than we hope for. Our culture does not exactly exude responsible behaviour and good choices. The tabloids are filled with Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan and more stars gone wild galore. If we want to raise good adults, we’ll have to do it ourselves.
Parents, though, don’t necessarily share this view of their role. I recently heard the stories of three different responses to 14-year-old girls who needed parental guidance. First, my niece had her grade 8 graduation last year, and some parents from the class offered to have a coed sleepover in tents. My sister-in-law had only one question: are the parents going to stay in the tents themselves? If not, then my niece wasn’t going anywhere near the party. She wasn’t old enough or mature enough to handle the issues she may inadvertently face.
A few days later my sister-in-law was talking with other moms. Several expressed their own dismay at the party, though that dismay hadn’t translated into forbidding it. “I didn’t want my son to go,” one mom said. “But all of his friends were going. How could I say no?”. Tina looked at the mom incredulously. “You are his mother, aren’t you?” she asked.
Another friend, we’ll call him Rick, was dealing with a daughter who was out of control. She had been sneaking out with a very bad crowd from school, and he was determined to stop her. One night, after flat out refusing to let her go to a party, his daughter headed for the door anyway. Rick beat her to it. He stood there, between her and the doorway, for four hours as she repeatedly hit him and punched him and tried to get him to move so she could escape. He wasn’t budging. He didn’t yell; he didn’t scream; he simply held his ground and kept repeating “I love you. And someone who loves you would not let you do this.”
His words are very profound, aren’t they? Love is not making sure your child is happy, or popular, or cool. Love is giving up your evening to make sure she doesn’t party with a bad crowd and hurt herself. It’s throwing out the T-shirts with rude sayings that give the message your child is open to abuse or objectification. It’s enduring the “I hate you’s!” because you know that giving in will mean your child, who is more precious to you than your own life, will only hurt worse. It’s allowing your own heart to be seared and ripped, in the prayer that you will prevent your child from coming to harm.
It takes guts. It takes work. And it takes time. But that is the very definition of being a parent. “Someone who loves you would not let you do this.” If only all parents would heed those words.