Where do our children learn about relationships, human sexuality, dating and about what is socially acceptable and unacceptable? One would hope that most of our children would learn about these important realities from their parents. Unfortunately, much of the research indicates that children today learn about these issues from their friends. Too often, they get incorrect information or a distorted view of what is right or appropriate behavior.
Recently, I took an informal survey in four of my sociology classes that I m teaching this semester regarding relationships, human sexuality and socially acceptable behavior. I was surprised that in each class more than 95% indicated that they learned about most of these issues from their friends.
As we continued the conversation and discussion, it became apparent that many of these students, although living at home, did not have very connected relationships to their parents. When asked why, most responded that their parents worked and were busy with a variety of responsibilities. Family time was almost nonexistent and the family meal was rarely celebrated. They further indicated that they felt connected to their parents and loved them, but would not seek their advice on personal issues. They also indicated that their parents never sat them down to discuss sex, human relationships and other important social behaviors. Those issues were addressed among their peers.
Parenting one s children should be the first priority in every family. In a recent letter to the editor in this paper, a parent wrote that parenting and raising one s children should be a parents number one job. She took issue with my column on bullying, where I indicated that teachers need to become more astute in recognizing and addressing students who bully.
As a surrogate parent for almost 30 years, having raised other peoples children, I was not suggesting that teachers do a parent s job, but rather that there be a cooperative effort between parents and teachers to ensure safe environments for all of our children.
My concern is that a growing number of parents are not parenting. Some are trying, but are overwhelmed and give up. Some are trying, but lack the skills to parent effectively and need tremendous support. Parenting is a full-time job, and it is hard. No parent received a parenting manual, when they started raising their children. Most of us have learned, painfully at times, as we have gone along.
What is missing today is the partnership that once existed in communities across the country between parents, teachers, church/synagogues/mosques and community. In a different era, no matter what your religion or your socio-economic circumstance, every parent in your neighborhood looked out for other people s children as well as their own. If you were doing something wrong, it was commonplace for another parent to correct you and more often than not call your parents and let them know.
If you got in trouble in school, and the teacher called home, there was never a debate about your culpability in the incident. You were always guilty as charged and held accountable. The teacher was always right and was always to be respected.
Today, unfortunately that respect is painfully absent, as well as the cooperative spirit between parent and teacher. Too often, parents make endless excuses for their children s inappropriate behavior and lack of cooperation in the classroom. Many teachers complain that they get no response when they attempt to contact parents about their concerns relative to their children.
One can make the case that some teachers have abused their power. In fairness, they are few and far between. In our community, I can speak from first-hand experience about the quality, competence and integrity of our teachers. I have had the privilege of working in all of our local middle schools and high schools on countless occasions. Our local teachers are extraordinary. They are committed and for the most part are willing to go more than the distance for our children. Unfortunately, a growing number of our parents are not willing to do the same.
Parenting is hard. It is demanding and time-consuming. Our children, as they move into adolescence and young adulthood, are challenging. Their social world is very complicated and at times emotionally very difficult. They need us in more ways than they realize. Too many parents want to be pals with their teenagers.
A good litmus test that you are being effective at parenting your teenage son or daughter is when they tell you at least 25 times per day that they hate your guts. Then you know you are doing your job as a parent effectively.
Honestly, you can t be friends in the literal sense with your teenagers. They don t need you to be a pal. They need you to help them calibrate their moral compass, create appropriate social boundaries, learn how to problem solve and make appropriate and sometimes difficult social decisions.
They need you to talk to them about human sexuality, about dating and what is appropriate and not appropriate. They need to hear about social relationships, about how men should treat women in relationship. They need to hear you speak about drug and alcohol use, about respect for authority about honesty and integrity. These cannot be five minute conversations on the fly. They must be ongoing conversations that at times will be hard and painful and long. But if our children are our number one priority, we don t have a choice. We must make the time and invest the energy in their lives.
As parents, we must stop making excuses for our children and their poor decision-making. They need to be held accountable. Recently, a parent sought my assistance regarding her 19-year-old son, who has a serious heroin addiction. Based on my training and experience, I gave her some very concrete things to do that hopefully, if properly implemented, will save her son. As soon as she realized that it was not a quick fix, she started to make excuses for why he could not do certain things that clearly were necessary to help him enter recovery. I challenged her and said, Do you want to do the hard things now and possibly save your son s life? Or would you rather take the path of least resistance and visit his body in the morgue? She could not respond and walked away sadly. I, too, was very a sad for her, but more importantly for her son.