When I was in 10th grade, I listened to my parents about the big things but when it came to what I was going to do with my friends on the weekends, my parents were less influential. I knew what they wanted me to do — nothing risky, nothing illegal, nothing inappropriate — but I saw it as my job to push the envelope. And envelope pushing was easier when I was away from my house, out of their sight and perhaps not on the top of their minds.
Well, now I’m the parent of a 10th grader. It appears that she is wise enough to recognize (even if she doesn’t always agree) that my husband and I have her best interest in mind when we offer advice or refuse her requests to go somewhere that we deem inappropriate. However, we don’t believe that we should be making all of her decisions for her and understand that if we tried to control her every move, it would certainly backfire in some teenage rebellion way.
So, when she is with her friends, she makes her own decisions. Our hope is that she doesn’t put herself in danger unintentionally (or thoughtlessly) AND that much of what we have taught, advised, modeled during her first 15 years helps her to make the right choices when faced with not-so-simple decisions surrounding teenage risk-taking: drugs, alcohol, sex, bullying, what-have-you.
Then there are the lesser choices that still matter to us as her parents. Should we limit her exposure or access to things in which our culture and other parents are more permissive than we wish to be? We didn’t let her have a cell phone or Facebook account until much later than most of her friends; we didn’t let her wear slippers (what’s with kids wearing slippers to school?) or inappropriate clothes out in public; and we don’t allow her (yet) to attend unsupervised parties or concerts or events.
But what about television and movies and music? The messages that come through many of the programs or films or songs that teenagers find intriguing are so far from our moral and ethical values that by instinct, we want to forbid our children from having access to them. Yet, any 15 going on 16 year old, unless under house arrest, will find a way, if she desires, around our concerns regarding media access. Even if we were to forbid her from consuming said media.
I’m of the mind that our daughter is influenced by the culture in many ways that we don’t see and can’t prevent. We’ve spent many years sharing our beliefs with our children and hoping that they have absorbed the most important messages inherent in what we have to say. They know how we feel about the blatant promotion of sex and drugs in our media; they know that we’d rather them not spend their precious time watching teenage girls behave like spoiled brats who will do anything to attract male attention or to get whatever it is that they want in the moment; they know that we consider the everyday usage of foul language unattractive, especially when directed at another human being.
But, we also believe that kids have to make their own mistakes in order to learn who they are and what they believe. They have to live in this culture and find out where they fit or don’t fit and how they are going to manage themselves within it. Ultimately, they have to live their own lives.
On Friday night, my 10th grader arrived home around 8 pm and wanted to watch a movie. It was just the two of us. We scanned through the options on Verizon OnDemand. So many movies that didn’t interest either of us. Then I saw that they had RISKY BUSINESS, a movie I loved when I first saw it at 18. I knew there were some suggestive scenes; I knew that the main message of the movie (being successful at the business of selling sex to teenage boys was a good way to get into college) was highly questionable; but I also know that my daughter is smart and thoughtful and has probably seen much worse when I haven’t been around.
She loved the movie and I enjoyed it as much as I did thirty years ago. There were a few places where I felt a little uncomfortable watching something with her and in those places, she voiced how glad she was that Dad wasn’t watching with us because he would be even more uncomfortable than I was. There was an acknowledgement there that while the movie is fun, not everything in it is appropriate behavior in the real world. My kid gets that.
Here’s to hoping that she acts accordingly.
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