I need your help!! I hope you are as passionate about reading this as I was about writing it. I need your help. I’d like to spread the word so please share, forward, like, post, comment, whatever. Just tell everyone. I’m a Dad and I’m freaking out. I’m sure that, unless you’ve purposely poked your head deep and far under a rock, you’re familiar with the story of the two 12-year-old girls who stabbed their “supposed” friend 19 times under the pretense of their obsession with some horror website. Not only is this shocking and devastating, but it also brings some interesting questions and conversations into play. Namely, the role of family and identity in little girls’ lives. I use the term “little girl” because even though in the eyes of the law these girls can be tried and convicted as adults, they are still, indeed, little girls.
When I first read of this story I was at my relative’s house and TV Land happened to be on in the background. The show? Leave It To Beaver. At that moment, watching this “utopian family” function together in harmony, something blatantly obvious yet utterly disappointing occurred to me: Gone are the days of Leave It To Beaver. Gone are the days where dad left for work at 8:30 am, and came home for dinner promptly at 5:30 pm. Gone are the days when mom busied herself by cleaning house and making sure the kids got to and from whatever school activities in which they were participating. No more are the days when children played outside with friends until dark and then came home in time for stimulating conversation over a home-cooked meal, all before hitting the books and getting to bed at a decent hour.
Nowadays both parents are working, from whatever time they need to – to whatever time they need to. Kids are shuttled around by bus, by friends, or by themselves, to their activities or after school programs; or worse yet, kids are left alone at home to their own devices. Today’s children play horrific, and desensitizing, video games. They frequent inappropriate websites and start relationships with virtual strangers – who very well could be, and probably are, misrepresenting themselves. Sadly these situations are often unavoidable, as the cost of living (especially in Los Angeles) is astronomical and everyone is left trying to keep up with the Joneses.
But here’s something: As I read through all of the devastating facts of this case, most notably absent are the girls’ home lives. More importantly, their relationships with their parents. As a parent, I find myself less worried about what could happen to my kids, and more concerned with how I can prevent this sort of tragedy from ever happening to them. After all worrying, and not taking action, is in my opinion one of the most useless emotional responses. So how can i prevent this sort of tragedy from ever occurring within my own house?
Well, at the risk of overstepping my bounds, being politically incorrect, or just plain rude, I am going to break down some of the things that I believe should and shouldn’t be done when it comes to parenting.First and foremost I am committed to building an appropriate relationship with my children. Not any of that “I want to be a friend to my kids” crap. Your kids aren’t your friends- go to the bar, or to work, or to PTA meetings, or to your kids games, or pick up a hobby for that. Your kids are your kids and, as I mentioned before, though the law might be able to charge them as adults, they are your kids ’til they are 18 (for better or worse). So the reason you might feel shame or embarrassment by the things your children do is because they are your responsibility and their actions DO reflect on you.
Children are not here to parent themselves, and you are not some third party mentor, friend, or confidant. Yes, I want my kids to be able to ask me important questions, to be independent and free thinkers, and to eventually become productive fully-functioning adults – but until then and “while you are under my roof” it’s “you do what we say because we are your parents and we love you.” That’s it. That’s the end of the conversation. “I can make your life blessed, or I can make your life hell, but one thing will always be true: if I do my job well, you will probably live ’til you are 18!”
Second, what are your kids doing on the internet?? I understand that you cannot police them 24 hours a day, but you can build a level of trust and safety for them and if they disregard or disobey it, you can start removing privileges from them. I understand that it may put more responsibility on the parents, as they have to enforce and consistently reinforce rules and restrictions, but your kids aren’t learning about real life if they are running free and wild, doing whatever they want at their own discretion. Real life is about rules, deadlines, priorities, and doing what your boss says! In this case, you, the parent, are the boss. If you let your child get away with everything, it teaches them that there are no consequences for their actions, and that is a dangerous message to convey, whether the outcome is life in prison or life in the real world.
Finally, start dialogues with your kids. “My kid just isn’t street smart” or “He’s a typical teenager!” are not acceptable responses. You can’t know what your kids are into if you’re not asking them and showing an interest in what they are doing. Don’t tell me these girls who were “obsessed” with these sites, would be “reading everything they could get their hands on about it” if their parents were constantly checking in with them. Keeping up a consistent flow of relational conversation means that asking your kids about their interests and hobbies is normal and expected, not accusatory and judgmental. You’re not trying to find fault, you’re creating interest and an opportunity to be involved in your child’s life – and that is integral to your child’s emotional growth and bonding.
So should we revert back to the idealistic Leave It To Beaver age? Maybe not entirely. But what I do know is that the rate of depression, bullying and crime amongst children and teens is going in the wrong direction – so maybe Leave it to Beaver isn’t looking so bad after all. I’m not saying parents are always to blame, but I am saying that at 25 or 35, you can probably say “I don’t know where exactly things went wrong with Johnny!!” with perhaps a clearer conscience. But if you are saying that about your 12 year old child then you better be feeling the guilt and the glare of responsibility, because where DID things go wrong? If this all sounds like to much work, and you just want to have an easy/friendly relationship with your kids, then I’m afraid to break it to you, but you probably weren’t cut out for parenthood. Just the facts, ma’am– only the facts!!
** While it may be a complete pipe dream to believe I could affect some sort of change in this crazy world, I would like to spread this message and do my best to try, so please do share this article!**
***AND PLEASE COMMENT BELOW, I AM VERY CURIOUS TO HEAR YOUR THOUGHTS – WHETHER YOU AGREE OR NOT… LET ME KNOW!***