So, I’ve seen quite a bit of chatter in social media this week about the incidents in Steubenville. I almost didn’t write this post. But I felt really strongly. So inside of posting on Facebook (which I ardently believe is a bad place for thoughtful discussion), I’m posting it here. And fear not, all comments must be approved by me so anything mean will be summarily deleted – because this is my blog and I can do that.
I have two kids. A daughter and a son who are on the cusp of adolescence. While neither of them are “super popular” kids, they are certainly more popular than I was. This is especially true of The Boy – he’s a sweet, likable kid. In fact, his teachers have said he’s challenging to discipline because “he’s just so darn likable.”
They don’t know anything about Steubenville. But this is what I told them last night – and what I hope they will remember for years to come.
I am not so naive as to believe that you will always tell me the truth, or that you won’t try to push the boundaries. But should you ever find yourself in a situation that makes you uncomfortable, call me. I don’t care if it’s 3:00 a.m. I promised to come and not yell at you right then and there. Sure, we might have a conversation the next day about responsible choices, but I am your mother. It might be that you misled me and went to a party instead of to the movies, and that party has gotten out of hand. Maybe it was a legitimate trip to play video games at a friend’s house that has taken a wrong turn. Whatever. Call me. Don’t let fear of “getting in trouble” lead you into a far worse kind of trouble.
Be kind. You both are good kids. If you see someone picking on, beating up, or otherwise mistreating someone else, say something. It doesn’t have to be grand. A simple, “Hey, that’s really uncool” is sufficient. If you are afraid for your personal safety (for example, don’t step into the middle of a physical altercation), call me. Call 9-1-1. But do not give your tacit approval by staying silent. Yeah, it might cost you a few “friends,” but do you really want friends like that in the first place?
Don’t be so quick to do what the “cool kids” are doing. This might be drinking, drugs, sex, shoplifting, bullying, whatever. Drinking and drugs will destroy your bodies and your spirits. You both want to do so much; drinking and drugs are not going to help. Don’t be so quick to have sex. It’s a powerful, intimate bond. Wait for the right person to come along – someone who respects you and that act enough to treat it as something special, not something cheap.
For my son
You’re an athlete: basketball, taekwondo, swimming. Don’t think this gives you free rein to be a bully. Other kids, especially younger ones, will look up to you. Remember that and be the kind of person you’d want a younger sibling to look up to. Don’t grow up thinking your position as an athlete exempts you from common decency.
Be kind. You may be one of the smaller kids now, but you’ll be a big kid some day. You have a responsibility to look out for the weaker/smaller/younger kids. I don’t mean you have to jump in like Superman to save the day. It can be as simple as stepping away from bullying or saying, “Stop it, it’s not okay.” Maybe it’s calling a responsible adult. Whatever. You’ve got a kind heart right now. That’s more important than baskets, trophies, or pool records.
Some day, although you can’t really imagine it, you’re going to like a girl. Remember she is a person. She’s someone’s sister. You’d want boys to treat your sister kindly, to respect her, right? Treat that girl the way you’d want your sister to be treated. She is a person. Knowing girls the way I do, she may want to have a boyfriend – but she doesn’t quite know what that means. Other girls may be pressuring her to do things she doesn’t really want to do. Don’t you pressure her. Listen to her words and her actions. She may want to hold your hand or kiss you. But she might not want to either. So if she doesn’t want to – whether she says “no” or just pulls away – listen to that. She’s a human being with rights and feelings. Treat her that way.
For my daughter
In some ways, girls are crueler than boys. Don’t be the girl who mistreats someone because she isn’t wearing the “right” brand of jeans, or looks different, or has acne, or is a little socially awkward. Be kind. You want friends? You have to be a friend first. By the way, boys are people too. The boy with glasses who maybe isn’t on the football team and is shy around girls? Don’t be mean to him or tease him because of it. He’s trying to figure all this “stuff” out too, you know.
Don’t ever be afraid to say “no,” either to boys or girls. Your body is yours – no one else’s. Don’t let someone else defile it. If all else fails, you’ve got the ability to land a wicked kick to the head. That shouldn’t be your first line of defense, but if necessary use it.
Make sure the words coming out of your mouth match your actions. If you really mean “no,” say it and act it. Don’t dress in clothing that over-sexes you, don’t let a boy kiss you, then touch you, then stick his hand up your shirt or down your pants – and then say “no.” That’s going to lead you to a bad place and you’ll regret it. Even if he backs off, no boy is going to respect you if you constantly act one way, but say something else. Your actions are at least as important, of not more important, than your words. The saying “actions speak louder than words” exists for a reason.
In sum, both of you, remember the golden rule: Love thy neighbor as yourself.
Image courtesy of bhrgunatha; used under Creative Commons