Tuesday, April 9, 2013

One Case is Too Many

Not that it was planned this way but oddly enough my last post was about teenagers and so is this one.  I think this one will be far more important though.  At least I hope so.

It's almost always the same exact story:

Underage Girl goes to a party (usually with friends).
There is alcohol served at the party.
Girl and friends start drinking.
Girls get drunk.
Boys are there too, drinking/getting drunk.
Boys get aggressive.
Girl gets sexually assaulted.
Other party-goers take pics/videos with their phones.
Pics get posted/sent/shared/reposted.
Girl is devastated/humiliated/harassed.
Girl seeks help and/or sometimes can't handle it.
Girl takes her own life.
Girl's family is devastated.

I can't even count how many stories I've read in the news in the last few years where this has taken place.  The cases don't always end in suicide but many of them do.  The ones that don't, end up with the girl being harassed, bullied, humiliated, mocked, threatened, etc.  Often the family will move to protect her and help her start over but that doesn't always help.

At the core of it, this isn't a "new" thing.  Drunk teenage boys and drunk teenage girls have never been a good mix.  Bad things happen when young people get drunk.  It's just the end result of a really bad choice.  Granted, bad things don't always happen when boys and girls get drunk, but when there is alcohol in the mix, the chances go through the roof.  Inhibitions are lowered, rational, critical thinking and personal responsibility is out the window, and things happen that shouldn't happen. (And in case anyone questions that I might be picking on teenagers, I assure you the exact same thing happens to mature adults when they get drunk.  It's just the way alcohol works on the brain, no matter the age).

The only "new" part of this is, the whole picture taking/video recording and sharing it online which only serves to magnify and snowball the entire humiliating episode into a brutally painful, seemingly neverending avalanche of heartache for the girl.  Truthfully, I cannot wrap my head around that one.  I mean, seriously.  You're at a party, you see someone being sexually assaulted and you... stop and take pictures? WHAT?  Who raised these people, Charles Manson and his wife Mrs. PsychoPants?  Maybe that's unfair, maybe the picture taker's parents are just as horrified as anyone else when they find out their kids took pics of a rape at a party.  Maybe there's something else at work here that completely undermines every good value these parents tried to instill in their kids.  I'd like to give these parents the benefit of the doubt.  I'd like to believe it's only a handful of deranged, immoral, no responsibility parents out there, and they are not in the majority, producing these kinds of people.

So then, what's the solution to all this?  How do we empower our kids (your kids, my kids, the neighbor's kids, their friends, our friend's kids - because sadly - this is who it's happening to, and being done by as well) to stop this?  Mercifully, none of my kids have ever been in this situation (nor have I) but there are some things that certainly can be done by everyone involved to make sure there's never another instance of this, ever.  The only question is, will they be done?  Probably not. but maybe someone reading will take it to heart and maybe what I have to say (I know, I'm a mom, what do I know?) will help someone. I certainly hope so.

GIRLS

Girls, know this first: I'm a mom to 6 girls.  Even being a mom to 1 girl makes a mother feel super-protective and want to shield her from any kind of pain or harm.  I have that times 6.  I want all my girls to grow up strong, independent and honorable - and some of them already have, since some are already adults.  Some are still teenagers at home though, just like the teenage girls in the news articles we all hear about.

If there is one thing I could say to you, to help you prevent this kind of thing from ever happening to you, that would be to honor yourself enough, respect yourself enough, that you would never dream of putting yourself into a risky situation and assume everyone else is going to respect and honor you as well.  It will NOT happen.  There are people out there in this world (some in your school, some you are casual acquaintances with) who are quite capable of taking advantage of someone because they feel like it, and have the opportunity.  Don't ever give anyone that opportunity, because eventually, someone will take it.  It's just the world we live in.

Of course as a Christian mom I would also say don't drink at parties (and hope you'd realize you can have fun without drinking) but I don't live in a led mine.  Underage drinking at parties happens.  It probably always has, and always will.  So has rape.  One doesn't automatically lead to the other, but the drinking is definitely risky behavior and your honor is NOT worth that risk. Is it?

BOYS

Boys, the first thing I want you to know is that there are girls out there literally and genuinely waiting for an awesome guy to meet.  One that respects people, gets along with people, is well-mannered, honest, and... well yes, cute too. Being cute doesn't hurt but it only goes so far.  Here's the thing: YOU can be that guy.  You can be the guy who everyone has a good opinion of, people trust, rely on, and are just plain happy to know you.  There's a catch though, and the catch is, you have to honor yourself and respect yourself enough to want to become that guy. Take care of yourself, show respect to others, offer a hand when help is needed in whatever way.  If you go to a party and there's alcohol, please, for your sake leave it alone.  Yes, be "that guy that didn't drink".  You know all those "raging hormones" grown ups talk about in teenagers? Mix those with alcohol and you become a beast that you'll be ashamed of for the rest of your life.  It's like throwing gas on a fire, literally.

You know that risky behavior I mentioned in the section above for the girls?  The same applies to you but in different ways.  If you engage in this kind of behavior and expect there will be no consequences for drinking and throwing gas on the fire, talk to the boys from Steubenville and see if they'll agree with you. I can almost guarantee you they wish they would have done things differently that night.

I have an almost-teenaged son and my hope for him is that he does become "that guy".  The guy everyone likes, the guy people trust, rely on, respect, and enjoy knowing.  He loves God, respects himself and respects others so... he's well on his way.  He makes me and his dad, very proud.  Some day he's going to make a fine husband and one his wife and kids will also be proud of.

PARTY-GOERS/FRIENDS

Okay kids, you're at a party, there's drinking, one of the girls is clearly wasted, acting like... well, you know. She's drunk, and drunk people do some pretty stupid things. Then some of the guys, also wasted, start saying things, then doing things with her.  What do you do?

a.) leave the room and get another drink
b.) laugh and watch
c.) take pics with your phones and start sharing them with friends
d.) think "wow, I'm glad I'm not her"

The correct answer is... NONE OF THE ABOVE.  Because, she needs your help and so do those boys.  The alcohol in their systems is like poison and if someone doesn't stop what's about to happen, it's going to destroy her, and them, for the rest of their lives. None of them are thinking straight, and they all literally need someone to help them, right at that moment.

Do whatever it takes to break it up.  Yell, grab someone, pull her outside, whatever it takes.  If need be, get your phone out and call 911, I don't care if they are your friends.  Whatever it takes to be part of the solution, instead of the problem.  Yes, if you do nothing, or worse, if you egg it on, you are just as much to blame as the ones sexually assaulting that girl.  Don't be that person, be the kind of people your parents would be proud of, instead of humiliated by because they found out the pictures came from your phone.  It isn't funny, it's destroying someone's life.

If, unfortunately it wasn't broken up, pics were taken and shared - and you get one, don't share it.  Instead, go directly to your parents or another adult you can trust.  If someone raped your little sister at a party, you wouldn't share the pics, would you?  Didn't think so.  Do whatever you can to stand up for doing the right thing, instead of being part of this ugly mess.

Please know, this isn't meant to be an exhaustive solution to a very vile problem. Just some thoughts off the top of my head.  I'm just a mom, who used to be a teenager, that went to the same kinds of parties where teenagers get drunk.  Thankfully, this never happened to anyone I ever knew, but it's happened one too many times.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Throwing Kids Under the Bus

I sort of have a criteria level set for when I feel like blogging about something controversial.  If it just bugs me for a few minutes then I forget about it, it wasn't worth the time it would take to properly address it.  If however, it bugs me all day, and I can't stop thinking about it, it's probably something I need to write about - more to get it off my chest than for any other reason.  This is one of those "it's been bugging me all day" subjects.  So, here we go.

Q: how do you engage a young person (under the age of 20)  in a supportive and encouraging way, to learn about (or instill a curiosity about) important people in history?

A: You go on twitter, and with load of profanity and vulgarity and insults, mockery and various other types of disparaging comments, you throw them all under the bus for not knowing who someone is.

Right?  Isn't that the way social media & modern communication is supposed to work?

Obviously I'm being sarcastic but that's exactly what happened today.  Short story even shorter:

With the news of the passing of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, pop star Harry Styles of the band One Direction posted a tweet that simply said "RIP Baroness Thatcher".  As a result, many of his followers were confused, not knowing who he was referring to.  As a result of that, all kinds of people jumped on the bandwagon of "lets trash talk young people".  I don't really know how much of the trash talking went down today, but I saw numerous links to this twitter user, that FB person, this blog, that blog and some other site - all commenting on the same thing.  I only read a handful before I became really annoyed.  When I'd read a few of these nasty tweets towards Harry Style's followers I simply tweeted myself  "Is anyone really surprised that so many young people don't know who Margaret Thatcher was? I mean, seriously?"

Twitter doesn't bode well for expounding so this is where I'll do that. First, let's think for a moment about the age group of the followers of a boy-band pop star. In this case, the age range is probably from roughly 11 to 15. Now, given that information, let's ask ourselves if we seriously, honestly expect most 11-15 year olds to know who an 87 year old former Prime Minister is, who hasn't been PM since before they were ever born. How many of them even know what a Baroness is? Given the way the tweet was worded "Baroness Thatcher", is it really so much of a stretch to understand why so many of them didn't know who Harry Styles was referring to? As you think about these questions, please bear in mind these are kids, who are following pop stars on twitter - they're not adults who are yet well informed on world matters, politics and the like.

Granted, it would be nice (and I'm sure all homeschooling moms, history & social studies teachers everywhere would agree) if all kids that age knew exactly who was being referred to in that tweet today but it's just not the reality of our world, for about a million different reasons that all fall under the umbrella of "distractions". The more distractions anyone has (young or old) the less they're able to receive, process and really digest information. This isn't breaking news, there've been all kinds of studies on this done over the years - most of which - come down hard on the side of less distractions = better for you.

The more I thought about this today the more I couldn't help comparing what an average day is like today, for a 14 year old kid, compared to what an average day was like for me at 14. It wasn't really all that long ago (okay maybe it was, it was 1979) but there's been a massive change in society that makes everything different.

So, a generation ago, what was an average day like for a 14 year old kid after school, homework and daily chores around the house? For the most part, our "distractions" were watching tv, talking on the phone, hanging out with friends, and sports. That was pretty much it for most of us.

Compare that to today. After school and homework and chores, what's distracting our kids? Well, the same things that distracted us, PLUS, texting, tweeting, FB'ing, instagram, tumblr, skype, facetime, youtube, chat (various forms), gaming (various forms) and about a half a million other forms of electronic distractions, most of which are 100% useless time-suckers with no redeeming value or educational benefit at all.

This is not to let kids off the hook, so to speak, it's just the way it is. A huge part of that lays squarely at the feet of parents to limit how much e-blather is going into their kids brains. Good parents, attentive parents, "there" parents are trying hard to do that already - but there's lots of parents out there that just... don't.

So I said all that to simply say, it's just not fair to throw these kids under the bus for not knowing who "Baroness Thatcher" was. They live in a totally different world than we (their parents) did. Just to see for myself, I asked my 4 kids (ages 9-15) at dinner tonight "which one of you know who Margaret Thatcher is?" My 9 year old was completely honest and said "I have no idea who that is". She's 9, I don't expect her to know who that is. All the others said her name was familiar but they weren't sure who she was, so I told them. Then a couple of them had light bulbs go on ever their heads and said "yeah, now that you say that, I knew that".

I don't want my kids to have their brains stuffed full with e-blather, to the point they can't even tell you who someone in history was - even if it's fairly recent history. But even if one of them did post a comment online that exposed their ignorance, I sure wouldn't want a bunch of adults (yes, adults) making them feel like utter garbage because they didn't know.  

To me, folks doing that are more ignorant than the kids who didn't know who Baroness Thatcher was.

Monday, April 1, 2013

What Will Be Your Legacy?

I suppose it happens to all of us sooner or later.  It might come along at different times for each person but there comes that time when you realize you're "middle-aged" or the "big 5-0" is approaching, or the gray hairs seem to be sprouting faster and faster all the time and suddenly more often than ever before you start thinking about what's coming and how you'll spend those "golden years".

Even though some days I feel 100 years old, I know I'm still a good distance away from those golden years myself, but it really hit me hard a few days ago while reading a former school-mate's mother's obituary in my hometown paper.  I recall my mom telling me once many years ago that the older you get, the more familiar names you see in the obituaries.  As it turns out, she was correct.  As I read through the list of names I saw so many I recognized that it stunned me.  Most of them were parents of people I knew from school but then I saw one that was someone my own age.  Someone I knew about thirty years ago who, from last contact, had a pretty rocky life.  Twice married, twice divorced, found his own mother after a sudden heart attack claimed her in her 40's and then a year later found his own father who from all accounts simply died of a broken heart himself. He was in and out of the drug scene, sometimes gainfully employed and other times collecting public assistance.  The obituary didn't say much, except to say he left behind a companion, a daughter, a grand daughter and two brothers.  I clicked through to the online memorial page and sadly, saw that no one had left any comments.

I just sat at my desk and stared at the blank comment box, and cried for him.  Now I realize his life might have been much fuller than a simple obituary might  indicate but the whole thing just looked so bleak.  Like a life lived, then gone, with very little to remember it by.  He was only 51.

I couldn't help but think "what will my own obituary look like?"  Now I sure hope it'll be another 40 years or more before anyone has to write it, but it's a legitimate question to ask of one's self.  Not necessarily what I did or where I traveled to, what my hobbies were or who I knew or anything like that, but what people who knew me remembered the most about me - what kind of legacy or lasting impression did I leave in people's minds?  What kind of human being was she?

I certainly know what I hope it says. I hope some day when someone's scrolling through the obituaries and sees my name they read it and I hope it makes some kind of reference to my love for the Lord, first and foremost.  I hope what people remember the most about me when I'm gone is that I'm not really gone, but that I've just gone on to be with our Lord and Savior for all eternity.  Of course I also want it to say I was married to the love of my life, adored my kids and grandkids, goofed off more than I should have, loved to make people laugh, etc.  I don't want the reader of my obit to stare at a blank screen and cry - I want them to read through, smile, know that I was a happy person... and see Jesus.  And understand that I was happy because of Jesus, and the hope, the peace, and the assurance I had.  I want them to see it, get it, and desire it for themselves if they don't already have it.

What will your legacy be?