Monday, August 8, 2011

The Misguided Stamp of Approval

Hold onto your middle school hats, it's story problem time.

Sheila is a caterer who has made a beautiful batch of cupcakes that she is saving as a thank you gift for one of her best clients. She has a teenage daughter, Jessica, who craves sweets and likes to sneak into the pantry every once in awhile to down one of the forbidden treats. How should Sheila best handle this?

A) Keep the cupcakes in the pantry. Jessica is well aware of the house rules, and if she does try to sneak a cupcake, Sheila should reprimand and/or punish her accordingly.

B) Keep the cupcakes at a friend's house. If Jessica decides to eat a cupcake over there, it's fine. As long as she doesn't eat it at home or eat all of them, Sheila's client will never notice the missing one.

C) Put the cupcakes out on the table with a napkin and a note that says, "Since you are going to eat a cupcake anyway, I might as well make it easier for you. Make sure you clean up the crumbs after you are done."

You picked C, right? Because that's what friends do?

Oops, did I say friends? I meant parents. That's what parents do? Well, at least in this alternate reality we call the 21st century.

Assistant professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Amy Schalet, is encouraging parents to reevaluate their views on cupcakes, um, I mean, teenage sex. (Okay, it just struck me as funny that I crafted a sex metaphor using cupcakes. But it's late and I don't feel like changing "cupcakes" to jelly beans. Also, pretty sure caterers don't bake jelly beans and really, I was just trying to prove a point. I never said it was a perfect comparison.) Ahem, where were we? Oh yes, teenage sex. Ms. Schalet suggests that family life will improve if parents have "more open ideas about teenage sex," i.e., let their teens have sex at home. Family unity will increase, more responsible sex will take place, and teens can feel comfortable about their relationships instead of sneaking around.

Because nothing says family harmony like letting your teenagers do whatever they want with whomever they want. With your blessing. Under your roof.

With apologies to Ms. Schalet, this is absolutely insane. It is simply horrifying how widespread this idea ("They're going to do it anyway, so we might as well help them do it as safely as possible") is becoming. And it's only expanding. You don't believe me? Not only are parents providing the alcohol and drugs for their teenagers' parties, now health officials in California have crafted safety guidelines for using ecstasy, an illegal drug. "Take frequent breaks, stay hydrated, and don't mix ecstasy with other substances," they say. Taking it a step further, Supervised Injection Sites are popping up from Vancouver to Australia. At these facilities, trained nurses actually inject their clients with illegal drugs. Clean needles, medical help available in case of an overdose. What could possibly be better than that?

I'm sorry, but would the world stop, please? I want to get off.

I'm not sure when societal philosophy morphed from "train up a child in the way he should go" to "let your kid do whatever he wants so you can have peace at the dinner table" but I tremble to consider the impact of this way of thinking a few years down the road. We are already seeing bits and pieces of it, and it is truly frightening.

Certainly, as Ms. Schalet says, giving a teenager free reign when it comes to her love life will increase family peace and harmony. So will buying a treat at the grocery store to placate a tantrum-throwing toddler. That doesn't mean it's the wise or appropriate thing to do, nor that the resulting contentment is the kind that will last.

Not to mention, I can't think of anything more damaging to a teenager's self esteem than to say, "We have so little faith in you and your ability to control yourself that we are going to place no expectations on you. In fact, since you have no ability to work for or wait for the things you want, we are going to help you give in to your every whim. Here's a condom. Have fun!"

This sounds to me like the kind of freedom that ties itself around the ankles until one can't even walk without tripping. How did we forget that self esteem does not come from doing whatever you want to be doing (or from just showing up and expecting to be handed a trophy), it comes from working hard to accomplish the things you should be doing and controlling your impulses to delay gratification.

Productive, happy adults are not born of toddlers who never learned to control themselves. Nor is happiness a recipe built from equal parts selfishness and instant gratification.

It's time to expect more of our children.

And it's time for them to expect more of themselves.


MyDonkeySix said...

eeeeeek! I want to go off too, please! (And I want a cupcake now. Thanks a lot!) The world is so messed up. Children and teens need and actually crave boundaries. Sometimes I wonder if there's a guy hiding and is going to pop out and say "Surprise, you're on Candid Camera." This really can't be reality, can it?

kws said...

Holy cow Bonnie, I love your blog!