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Many parents would agree that a great deal of parenting time is spent teaching children right from wrong, the importance of honesty, responsibility, good character and much more. These are many of the essential qualities they will need to be successful in life – especially when your kids mess up. 

No matter how much effort we put into teaching our children, there are bound to be times when they disappoint us for one reason or another.

“I can remember the first time my son really disappointed me,” says Jim Smith.* “I was angry at him and at the same time I was beating myself over the head trying to figure out where I had gone wrong in raising him. For a long time, I felt sorry for him. Instead of trying to help correct what happened, I tried to compensate. Just when I thought things had turned around, he would do something else. It is hard to get past not thinking it is always your fault when your children make poor choices.”

This type of response from parents is common. Whether it’s bouncing checks, drug use, risky sexual behavior, driving recklessly, unhealthy relationships or lying, it hurts to see our children make mistakes, especially when their choices affect their future.

Often when children, young or old, do disappointing things, the first reaction is to try and fix it. When problems arise, parents often try to control their child’s choices and remove the consequences, thinking that their actions are the loving thing to do, but that may not be true. Sometimes the most loving thing a parent can do is let go.

When children are young, parents are typically directing behavior. When children enter the teen years and beyond, a parent’s role ideally shifts to coaching their children, along with helping them make their own decisions and accept personal responsibility for their choices.

If you are dealing with disappointment in your older child’s behavior, consider these things:

  • See your child as separate from you and making his/her own choices.
  • Understand that their behavior is not a direct reflection of who you are.
  • Stop rescuing. Let them fall and experience the consequences of their choices. Experience is a great teacher.
  • Recognize that you can love your child while allowing them to make their own choices. And it will probably be painful.
  • Make a conscious decision to go on with your life. Know that you have done the best job you knew how to do.
  • Take responsibility for those areas where you believe you fell short. Then move on and model healthy actions going forward. 

Smith says that he finally realized that he did everything he could to teach his son right from wrong. But his kid continues to mess up. 

“I finally told him that it isn’t that you are a bad person; it is the choices you keep making, and you will always have difficulty because of those choices,” Smith says. “At some point I had to stop taking it personally and let go, realizing I could not change him.”

Looking for more resources? Watch this episode of JulieB TV for an in-depth look on this topic!

Have you heard about the Sayreville, New Jersey high school football team? The school superintendent suspended their entire season after learning of hazing incidents in the team locker room. Seven teens were arrested and charged with participating in hazing rituals that allegedly included raping freshman players.

What is at stake here? 

Considering each teen’s future, what’s the potential lasting impact of this type of behavior? Some will say, “Boys will be boys, what’s the big deal?” Others will say this isn’t just hazing, but outright abuse.

After the season’s cancellation, many parents complained that this was hurting their child’s potential scholarship opportunities, that it was unfair to punish the entire team for the actions of a few, and that perhaps the superintendent’s reaction was too harsh.

What About Accountability?

The alleged assault took place in the locker room with the entire team present. If this is the case, who should we hold accountable – actual participants, silent witnesses, or both?

You might remember a 2012 incident in Steubenville, Ohio involving two stellar athletes on the high school football team. Convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl, they both faced time behind bars. As in the Sayreville incident, witnesses did nothing to stop the rape.

When the victim’s parents pressed charges, her family received threats and statements were made such as, “She was asking for it.” One of the boys pleaded with the victim not to press charges because it would ruin his football career.

People literally spend millions of dollars on anti-bullying and abuse prevention campaigns targeting teens. They even tell young people this behavior is unacceptable and if you see something, say something.

Unfortunately, Sayreville and Steubenville are not the only two places in the country where incidents like this have taken place, and the parents’ response to these situations is troubling. They seemed more concerned about the football season than the potential lifelong impact of this situation for everyone involved. Some might argue that there has been a cultural departure from having an ethical sense of right and wrong.

Choices Have Consequences

One could understand teens complaining about the punishment being too harsh because the judgment/decision-making part of their brain doesn’t fully develop until the mid-20s. It’s more difficult to understand, however, parents who don’t see the need to hold their children accountable. If your teen had held down and raped someone as part of a football team initiation, what would you want to happen?

Kudos to the teens brave enough to say something! Clearly, we can talk with and help teens understand that stopping someone from taking advantage of another person is not “ratting them out.” It is the right thing to do.

Teaching teens about sexual assault and what to do if they witness someone taking advantage of another person is absolutely vital. Lives are much different as a result of the Sayreville and Steubenville situations, and others. Parents cannot sit back and believe that this is all just part of growing up. There’s just too much at stake for our young people.

Image from Unsplash.com

Brock Allen Turner is the Stanford University student who was found guilty of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman who had been at an on-campus party in January 2015.

The story initially made the news when two graduate students riding their bikes across campus witnessed the scene unfolding and came to the woman’s aid. The two called police and held Turner at the scene until they arrived.

While the jury found Turner guilty on all counts, the judge only sentenced him to six months in jail.

The judge stated, “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others.”

At Turner’s sentencing, the victim read him a letter describing the assault’s impact on her life. If you have not read this letter, it is worth your time to do so. It can be found here.

Adding to the troubling aspect of the crime, Turner has confessed that he was drunk. He has stated that he wants to visit college campuses to talk about the dangers of alcohol and sexual promiscuity, but what he does not want to talk about is sexual assault. In fact, in some instances, Turner is being portrayed as the victim.

How can that be? When did it become acceptable behavior to take advantage of someone who is drunk?

Parents can teach their kids to be responsible and accountable for their actions.

Turner’s father wrote a letter to the judge, requesting leniency for his son, explaining that “his son’s life has been deeply altered forever by the events of January 17th and 18th…now he barely consumes any food and eats only to exist. These verdicts have broken and shattered him and our family in so many ways. His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20-plus years of life.”

When their children become teenagers, parents frequently tell them, “You only live once; enjoy it because it won’t ever be this way again.” What parents sometimes neglect to say is “What you do or do not do in middle school, high school and beyond can impact you for the rest of your life.”

Turner was not the victim in this situation. Two lives and two families are forever changed because of his behavior.

What happened is awful on all counts. In so many situations today, many people believe their actions have no consequences.

How can you help your child make good choices?

  • Teach teens what it means to be respectful of others my modeling responsibility and accountability.

  • Make sure they understand the definition of sexual assault. Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the recipient’s explicit consent.

  • Hold your child accountable for their behavior, even at an early age. They will be held accountable in the real world.

  • Your teen needs to know that “Everybody else is doing it” does not justify wrong behavior.

It’s painful to watch young people struggle to find their way. While they’re in your home, diligently teach them how to live responsibly away from your care. Young people have a mind of their own and they will make mistakes. As a parent, you can walk with them, and model responsibility and accountability without shielding them from the consequences.