Sunday, June 1, 2008

Growing Up Real Good

My friend Eddie posted a video at his blog that every parent really ought to watch. Not just watch, but pay very special attention to. Why? Because the girls in this video are speaking with an attitude that is a predominant attitude, in an entire generation of teenage kids.

Now, I want to point out something very important here. I did not say that this is an attitude that every teenage kid has, and I cannot say that this is an attitude that every teenage kid will have. I will say however, that this is an attitude that is predominant, in this generation of teenage kids. I hope that clarification is helpful.

If you cannot watch the video for some reason, here's the bottom line:

Two teenage girls spotted a girl scout selling cookies. They saw the money that she'd earned, laying on the table and they decided they should have the money instead of her, so they took it. When they were busted, they were not the least bit remorseful over the act of stealing from a 9 yr old girl scout (it wasn't her money anyway, they justified to themselves), but they were rather indignant that they got caught, have had charges pressed against them, and were not able to keep the money that they felt they were entitled to. One girl commented that the lesson learned from this, was how not to get caught.

Indeed. I wouldn't even dream of making this up. You can read more about these girls and this case here.

When I first watched this video, I was not at all surprised by this attitude. I wish I was, because then that would possibly mean that it's at least so uncommon in my experience, that it may be uncommon in the experience of others as well. This kind of attitude being uncommon, would be a very good sign, I think. Sadly, it is not uncommon to me.

I heard about this case just a couple of days after having a brief conversation about the "olden days" when teachers were legally able to spank kids in school, if the kids stepped out of line. In my school and in my town, those were called "hacks" and they were delivered by a little wooden hack paddle that resembled a small boat oar, with holes drilled in it. In just about every classroom, the hack paddle was prominently displayed hanging well within the teacher's quick access. It was pretty black and white: every kid knew the rules, and if you crossed the line, you got a hack. Period. Boom. End of story. Most kids made it all the way through school without ever once meeting the business end of a hack paddle. I almost did, were it not for that brief incident with the PE teacher in the 7th grade, and then the incident with the choir teacher, that same year. That was all it took though, and then the rest of my school career I never again ran into Mr. Hack Paddle. The two times I did however, I well-earned the pain I suffered, of the paddle.

It was also in the 7th grade in my state, that the hack became illegal. Physical discipline was taken out of the hands of public school teachers, and that was that. The day that new law went into affect, you can bet that EVERY kid knew about it, too. It was the buzz at school that day, and the arrogant transformation that came over the kids was nothing short of incredible. Just the week prior, there wasn't a single kid in my school (that I knew of) that would have dared mouth off to a teacher, but then suddenly there were numerous kids who did. Not only mouthing off & sassing back, but there were also all kinds of other rotten behaviors that came to the forefront in my school as well. Every kid knew the new law, and many kids said it so much that it could have potentially been the anthem for 7th grade: "they can't hack you for this anymore". That was all those kids needed to know, to justify doing things they knew were wrong - they wouldn't be punished for it in the same way, ever again.

How these two events are connected, is easy for me to see. By the time 9th grade came around, one of the worst girls in my school had actually beaten up a teacher, and essentially got away with it. By my junior year in highschool, there was a girl gang that liked to threaten and/or beat up anyone they felt like beating up, and for reasons I'll never know, I was targetted that year. Repeated pleas to my principle and vice principle did nothing to protect me, and some of the teachers and staff themselves were understandably afraid of these girls themselves. They were mean, and they didn't care about getting caught. They'd just beat you up again if they found out you were the one who told on them.

The legal decision to remove physical discipline from the hands of the adults, quite literally opened a floodgate of in-your-face conduct from the kids. I was there, I watched it happen. My friends and I watched it happen, and we all KNEW that's why the kids were doing what they were doing, because they openly and brazenly admitted that was why they were doing it. Oh you could still get into trouble for bad behavior; such as getting suspended, or getting in-house suspension. Those punishments however were met with a "so what" attitude. No one cared about those things, and the kids that were already spinning out of control actually looked forward to getting suspended. The very healthy fear of authority was now gone, and the kids liked it, a lot.

Fast forward to adulthood and being a parent, I can recall a time on the playground when my oldest was in 3rd grade, where kids were cussing up a blue streak. I'd never heard kids speak this way before so I asked my daughter about it and she replied "a lot of the kids talk like that, we hear it every day". That was 18 years ago.

By the time she became a teenager herself, the very attitude you'll see in that video, is the same attitude I began to notice with so many of the kids she was going to school with. Gone was the moral compass in many of these kid's lives that says "stealing is wrong" and it was replaced with "do whatever you want, just don't get caught". Oh they knew it was considered wrong by the law, and by what we call polite society. If asked, they could all give you the right answers, it's just that it wasn't the code they lived by.

Since becoming the parent of a teenager nearly 13 years ago, I've seen this attitude only increase among young people. I will repeat again that it is not present in ALL young people, but in my experience it is a common attitude. You'll see it in the video, you'll see it on the facial expression and the body language of the kid crossing the street in front of your car, when he walks very slowly and attempts to stare you down as if to say "I'm taking my sweet time, and what are you going to do about it?". You see it in the news headlines where more and more very young kids are being arrested and charged with vicious and brutal crimes that most of us formerly connected with hardened adult criminals.

At his blog, Eddie says this:

"All I kept hearing while watching this was Proverbs 29:15, “The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.” Shame, now there’s a word we don’t hear anymore."

I couldn't agree more.

While it's easy to spot the problem, the real work is in addressing it, and heading it off before it ever becomes a problem in the first place. While raising your kids right is never any guarantee that they will be honorable kids who grow up to be honorable adults, it certainly is our command from Scripture that we do this. Ephesians 6:4 says fathers (it says fathers, but this certainly applies to mothers as well) are not to exasperate their children, but to raise them up in the instruction and exhortation of the things of God. Ephesians 6:1 says to children that they are to obey their parents in the Lord, for this is right. These are not suggestions, or good ideas, or alternative routes to good parenting. These are commands of God, things we as parents and as children are expected to do because it is the right way to do things.

Fact is, many parents have become wimpy and cowardly when it comes to raising kids. They don't want to hurt their feelings (and none of us do, really) or stunt their creativity or individuality. They'd much rather be "friends" with their kids, than be the parent they are supposed to be, because being the parent means you have make tough choices that the kid wont always like, and will resist you on. Confrontation is a messy business, and many people would rather do anything than deal with confrontation, especially if it's with their kids. Parenting is hard work, and you have to be willing do the hard work of parenting, and do it consistantly. Parently in a godly way means you don't run from those confrontations but you stand your ground, stand firm on your convictions, and chastise when it's needed. It also means giving praise where praise is due, and tons of encouragement. You do both, because they need both.

While there is no such thing as the perfect Christian parent (and if you ever read that there is, you run far, and fast from such nonsense), there are things that will help a great deal. In the first place, you have to be willing to acknowledge that you don't have it all figured out, and there are people smarter than you that can help you in that area. Genuine parenting humility - that's critical. Being willing to say "okay, I totally blew that one, help me approach this a better way" among those parents you know that have been there/done that and know what works and what doesn't. The older I get the more I realize just how often I need to say this to myself, and admit that I am not, nor will I ever be the perfect parent. I still have a lot to learn, and a lot of growing to do myself.

One of the most helpful things I've ever come across toward that end, is a series by John MacArthur called "The Fulfilled Family". If you've never heard it, or would like to hear it again (I can't tell you how often I've listened and learned something new, every time), I cannot recommend it highly enough. I've only heard it on the radio when it's re-broadcasted, but you can also listen to it here at oneplace.com.

It will be some of the best time you've ever invested into growing yourself, for growing your family God's way, because it is the right way to do things.



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