Risky Business?

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.

Is this something you think about? care about? have an opinion about? If so, leave a comment so we can discuss.


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16 thoughts on “Risky Business?

  1. We didn’t have an easy time with our kids for many reasons I won’t bore you with. However, the one thing that was an absolute was that my husband and I were presenting a united front on everything (their specialty was divide and conquer) and that our standard response to “everyone else is doing it” or “all the other parents let their kids do it” was “well, I believe you. But that isn’t how we see the world.” Yes, our kids went way out into the danger zone, but they were never in doubt about our specific reasons for not liking this or that. And they knew that if caught they would have consistent consequences. Periodically we’d have to adjust our own views as our kids got older. We would have to do some adjusting and trust that they were learning and could make appropriate choices (which is not the same as “doing what we want.”) As for your “risky” movie, my son was a huge fan of rap for the beat, but he knew if he played it anywhere near me (like in the car), he was going to have to get into a discussion with me about the lyrics. Now his girlfriend always tells me he’s the most respectful boyfriend she’s ever had (despite the music he listened to). We always did our jobs as parents, even if the kids pushed the limits every five minutes. It’s an exhausting job, but important.

    1. Parenting IS exhausting. It’s so nice to learn that a child that went into the “danger zone” actually learned from all you taught. How gratifying to hear from your son’s girlfriend that he is so respectful. To see him as somebody who treats others well makes all the difficult choices worthwhile.

  2. Sara, I think you and your husband are doing the best you can. The most commendable part is that you care enough to “pause and consider,” or “selah” in Hebrew, what is appropriate and enriching for your offspring. Sometimes my husband and I go to a movie that has more blood and violence than (for justice or liberty’s sake…we don’t watch senseless violence) any child or young person should see. Yet, the seats are full of very young kiddos. Movies that move into the sex for titillation arena find us walking out and asking for our money back. We get it, too. However, as we exit, we are shocked at the kids (not teens) sitting there with adults absorbing such behavior on the Big Screen. I think that’s pitiful. Shame on those adults. And bravo to you guys for caring enough to “selah!”

    1. Thanks Jodi! I am also amazed when parents simply let their kids do whatever they want or they drag them along so they can do whatever they want. I think we all fall victim to some of that because we aren’t perfect but it can’t be good for the kids if we behave with such little concern for the impact of violence or sex before they are capable of handling it. I’m still not capable of handling some of what I’ve seen.

  3. I don’t actually have kids myself, so sadly I can’t offer much of an opinion, but I did enjoy reading your post all the same. It’s interesting reading other people’s insights into having kids in case I end up having one some day, or even just need to write a piece that has a parent/child relationship in it.

    Thanks for sharing P-)

    1. Thanks for reading! I agree that hearing other people’s perspectives on subjects that don’t affect us directly is great fodder for the writer. I know I read everything and anything I can get my hands on. When I can find the time.

  4. Yes. This is something I think, care, and have an opinion about ALL THE TIME!! Hard to put in a nutshell here, but being a somewhat conservative family with conservative values and morals, we are always in the “battle” mode when it comes to the culture war. It is probably one of the most difficult jobs as a parent. It is hard to go “counter culture” and your kids hate you for it at first, and later on they appreciate it! I have started to see the fruits of my labor with my senior daughter. I am so glad I stood my ground when I needed to. She now knows that family love, guidance and direction (and discipline) has brought her to a healthy and safe place. I even get a “thank you” for it now and then! I never thought I would see this side of it all!! – Not that the challenges are completely over, but it is nice to know that you are going in the right direction sometimes!!!

    1. How nice to get a thank you every now and then. This parenting gig is hard work if you see your job as guiding a young person to be a kind, respectful, high-functioning, contributing human being as they grow older. Always good to know others are trying to stand their ground as well. Not that I always do it as well as I’d like.

  5. Do I think about these things much? Um, yes, ALL THE TIME (like Kim up above said). I have a 15 y.o and a 12 y.o. and I sometimes feel like we’re the only parents that are setting limits around when to get a cell phone, the use of the internet, and movie/t.v. watching. Like you and your husband, we try to not be overbearing and unduly restrictive because we, too, believe kids have to make their own mistakes. Some lessons are best learned that way. AND we also hope that the values we’ve shared are at the very least seeds that will take root and grow as they mature into adults. Great post!

  6. I’m not a parent, but I was a step-parent for over a decade. I commend you on doing the right thing over the easy thing, which far too many parents do. Your daughter will thank you for it someday, if she hasn’t already!

  7. I believe in making our children strong and capable and independent. All you can control is what you teach them and your own reactions in life as an example. At some point you have to set them free to find their way and that is so hard but it will happen. They will remember what you taught them by example and in word, hopefully becoming the best person you hope them to be. It’s really all you can do. Sounds to me like your daughter has the foundation she needs to be successful.

    1. Thanks Cora. I have to believe that we are doing what we need to do to help them. It’s the setting them free that is so difficult as a parent.

  8. I do my best to keep track of what my kids (12 & 14) are into, but they constantly surprise me with song lyrics they know and movies they’ve seen. I watched all 7 seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with my daughter (now 14) which gave us many chances to discuss growing up issues, but wow, I spend a lot of time saying the Hail Mary that they make it through okay.

    1. I think a big part of guiding them through is to have a sense of humor, which leads me to believe you are doing a great job. 🙂

So what do you think?