Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Parent Trap

We all have heard the stories about how hard it was growing up when our parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents were younger.  We all know the joke about walking to school, barefoot, holding only a hot potato for warmth (also doubling as lunch), up-hill both ways in the snow.  While I certainly do imagine someone somewhere has experienced the physically possible portions of the story, it really only serves to illustrate how “good” this particular generation has it compared to the one before.
Typically, an allusion to the previous difficulty in growing up is followed by some sort of statement implying “kids these days just don’t appreciate what they have,” spurring the conversation about “kids these days just aren’t the same as they used to be.”
I think it was more than five days a week last year.
Well, coming from a man who has been a child within the last two decades and who works with kids five days a week - its true.  Kids are not the same.  Twenty years from now, kids won’t be the same, and current high school students will be making the same statements as my generation.  I wasn’t the same as my parents’ generation just as they were different from theirs.
Why is this?
Every child out there could make the same statement about their parents if they had the same perspective as the older generation.  Parents aren’t the same as they used to be.  This is not a judgement of any particular generation, not a statement claiming that one group of parents is better than any other, rather it is simply an observation that human beings are mutable.  
Where I learned how to
love my wife.
Children get so much from parents; sometimes I think parents forget about that.  Kids watch how they interact with people, inside and outside of the family.  They mimic the behaviors, sampling what feels right, learning from the reactions of the people around them what is appropriate and what is not.  They learn their vocabulary set from their parents, they learn their morals, they learn things like how to behave in public, how to get things they want, how to react to the word “no,” or how “no” actually has little meaning if it isn’t reinforced.  They learn that their are consequences for their actions.  Or they don’t.
Just as water is the great eroding force on the planet, shaping the physical world around us, parents are the force that shapes their children.  Any commentary on a child is a comment on how their parents raised them. 
Recently, the east-Texas town of Cleveland has experienced a crisis of consciousness on immense proportions.  An 11 year old girl was gang-raped by 18 boys and men whose ages range from middle school to late twenties.  The community is divided on the issue, with some placing blame on the males and some placing blame on the girl.  There are some who suggest that because the girl dressed like she was in her twenties (as if it would be ok to gang-rape a 20 year old), wore too much makeup for an eleven year old, and hung out with too many boys, some of whom raped her, that she was culpable for her own rape.  Some have shifted the blame to the girl’s mother.  They ask where was she, why didn’t she protect her daughter, why didn’t she teach her to look and act like an eleven year old.  I will never even consider the thought that a young girl somehow played a part in her own gang-rape because she wore adult clothes, makeup, and hung out with boys - she is the victim in this crime.  
Ultimately, I think the question the community needs to be asking is where were ALL the parents.  The parents of the boys and men who participated in the rape are just as responsible for the actions of their kids no matter their age.  They did not teach their kids about respect for another human, about the danger of negative peer pressure, about the reality of criminal consequences.  They did not teach their young men about the power of the male sexual drive and the pack mentality.  They could have prevented everything that happened had they stepped up and been good parents.
Now, I can imagine the wheels turning in the minds of parents out there, eager to deflect blame of their children’s actions from them.  The tired arguments about the weight of societal pressures, the overly sexualized media, the MTV generation, etc. fall on my deaf ears.  No matter the outside influences, the presence of a strong respectful parent will always take precedence in the mind of a child.  The opposite is true, though.  In the absence of a strong parental force, who becomes the parent?  MTV does.  The movies they watch do.  Late night TV does.  Rappers and rock stars do.  Their peers do.
The argument continues - what about their teachers?  From the perspective of a teacher, I have to question the sanity of any person that actually thinks this argument has weight.  First, most teachers handle a load of 180 or so students a day.  With the exception of extra-curricular teachers or coaches, each teacher will spend about 45 minutes a day with each student.  They will not be alone with them, nor will they be solely focused on the individual’s issues, as their job is to teach them curricular content.  Even if they were able to focus on specific individual students during their class, only addressing the concerns of the student and their growth as an individual, the 45 minutes they spend in the class are shared with 29 other students, allowing them only one and a half minutes dedicated minutes before they would need to move on to the next student.
Teachers are miracle workers, but some miracles are just too big.
What about the counselors?  Counselors generally focus on more specific issues like scheduling, standardized testing, AP enrollment, special needs students, and no longer have the time their job once allowed to “counsel.”  Even when they do have time to speak to students, it is generally only out of a specific request by the student, by a teacher out of concern for a student, or because of a parent conference.  The rest of their time is absorbed in school responsibilities.
Ok, how about their Assistant Principal?  Depending on the level, most APs are responsible for hundreds of students.  They are typically the disciplinarians of the school.  Their role, while edifying for the school community, is generally only fulfilled if a student has received a behavioral referral.  They play a part in doling out consequences for student actions, but unless the student has been taught from an early age by their parents that behavior has consequences, they will only see the actions of the AP as punishment instead of consequence.
If you don't parent them, he will.  Are you ready for that?
Parents are where it is at.  Regardless of the intention at the time, taking the actions that could eventually lead to the birth of a child bear a certain responsibility, one I am not sure enough young people are aware of (because they weren’t taught by their parents).  Parents bear the weight of the world.  Through their actions and inaction, they guide the human condition.  They have the ability to produce a generation that understands it is important to help others or they could produce a generation that is only interested in helping themselves.  They can initiate positive change through their powerful guidance or they can passively allow their children to be guided by such characters as the cast of Jersey Shore or the Real Housewives of Wherever.  They can teach consequences for actions and an important word - “no” - or they can allow them to discover real world application at the hands of another or through the criminal justice system.  Parents have the power to educate on the importance of learning and hard work, on the meaning of friendship and love, on the concepts of respect, humility, and servitude.  Sure, the rest of us will throw in our $.02, but the other $.98 comes from Mom and Dad.
Thanks for giving me good direction
and the skills to be a good person.  Now, maybe
I can help you figure out that phone.
Those of you who have taken the step to be a parent, I honor your good efforts, I honor your sacrifice.  As someone who has not yet had the opportunity to know your experience, I can only conceptualize at how difficult it might be, at how much weight rests on your shoulders.  Thank you for being good parents.  You are the future of this planet and your decisions will shape more than just your own life. 


  1. I'm loving your blog- it analyzes step-by-step alot of the things that I've been thinking since long before I was ready to be a parent. Well, ready or not, I am one now, and very proud to be- and I hope I can live up to your expectations :)

  2. Great article, Frank. Obviously, you had available and very loving parents who taught you not only "right" and "wrong"... but also how to be a contributing member of society. Your Mom & Dad have to be so proud of a job well done.