This column marked its 18th anniversary in January.
Marking the occasion also led to reflection on my daughter’s approaching 13th birthday. Zoey’s entry to her teens is a significant milestone and comes with many changes. For example, I’m a bit scared I’ve said too much.
If you have even minimal experience with tweens and teens, you probably know why. What’s the big deal? I was careful, factual and discreet. It’s also potentially embarrassing.
For years, I watched for signs Zoey’s story would change and exist largely outside my own. I thought I was ready. (I even accept her assertion my life can be divided in terms of “BZ” and “AZ.”)
However, I now see a problem: Will I be content to stick to everyday, embarrassing mom-stuff? Can I omit the bulk of Zoey’s teens from my writing? Should I?
Years of mulling faith, religion, morals, spirituality and values continues to teach me the answer isn’t necessarily “yes” or “no.” Instead, right and wrong often exist along the middle of a spectrum, making the most likely answer, “It depends.”
At issue is the way adults treat children and teens. We frequently compartmentalize such relationships in their own moral context. We expect kids to earn adulthood, so we aren’t necessarily as nice as we’d be to another adult.
Is it OK to believe that’s OK? We definitely convince ourselves certain things are — sort of — acceptable. We need convincing, because if we replace “child” with “adult” in such cases, our behavior might appear intrusive, demeaning and even majorly unfair.
We break our own rules while kids watch. We allow for our own shortcomings while expecting focused discipline from them. We assume kids possess intuition and wisdom to navigate our moods and rely on their youth to shield us from their clever scrutiny.
Or is different treatment just part of being a kid? Is no voice/no vote and random, frequent embarrassment all part of paying your dues? Won’t most kids get over it when they have “adult” problems? It boils down to justice, respect and dignity — rights we wouldn’t vocally deny.
However, we struggle with kids over issues like these:
“What are those girls talking about so secretively? Should I go extract my daughter? Can I listen without looking like I’m hovering? Is ‘hovering from afar’ a thing?”
“Do kids really deserve privacy? Is it OK to snoop? Should I be open about it or sneaky? If I don’t do it, I won’t know what she’s not telling me.”
“My kids find our old car embarrassing. That’s out of line. If that’s the biggest problem they have, bless them. They don’t want me to drop them off in front of their friends, but they’ll get over that.”
“My son is struggling to make friends. Why won’t he talk to me? Maybe I can hint around to his classmates. Or should I talk to their moms?”
As a parent, I’ve thought, said and done things I wouldn’t do in an “adult” situation. There’s the parent I planned to be, what I can realistically pull off and the mom I actually am. I justified my actions and drew on the promise of a child’s forgiveness and resilience when I failed.
Sometimes treating kids differently is valid, like when we protect, teach and defend for good and great reasons. But even in those cases, what’s the tone? In addressing other adults, we don’t proclaim righteous rightness so thoroughly.
Golden writes The Courier’s weekly faith and values column. Email her at email@example.com.