June 14, 2016

The Joys and Fears of Having Teenagers

I used to have a huge fear of the teenage years, partly bcause it would be a true test of the parenting decisions I had made when they were younger and partly because they would be moving out of my protection control (I'm getting better).  When kids are young, they agree with parents because they don't have reasoning skills, or at least they aren't developed yet.  Teenagers have the ability to reason and they start questioning what their parents have been telling them.  I thought that being challenged would be an uncomfortable feeling.  Instead, I have embraced it, because sometimes I get a better understanding of what I believe and sometimes, I find that my way of thinking is erroneous and needs to be updated. 

A month ago, I had a discussion with one of my daughters about how she was currently attired.  In the past, I taught my kids about dressing modestly and not letting people touch them in private areas.   In the past, she agreed even with the idea of dressing modestly.  The conversation was re-introduced one day when I took her out to dinner and noticed, truly noticed, what she was wearing (Bad Mom confession--I don't always look at what she is wearing when she goes to school).  Now, to be honest, the outfit wasn't flagrantly immodest, but there were a few things that I felt would call undue attention to her I ways she would not like.   I talked to her about it, trying not to slip in my lecture voice and she pushed back.  She pointed out that women in Muslim countries were getting raped even though they were covered from head to foot, so it apparently didn't matter what women wore because the problem seemed to be on the men's side.  This was a completely valid argument, an argument I have seen on the web even in Christian circles.  I agreed that the onus was not only on the woman, that men had responsibility for their actions, too.  But I also argued that it wasn't an either-or situation, but rather a both-and situation.  And as I tried to verbalize the thoughts that seemed to be floating just out of reach, we went back and forth, having a great discussion about women's and men's roles in the area of lusts of the heart and eyes and mind.  We talked about the messages that are received from men trying to lay blame on women or on alcohol when really it is their own thoughts that are the problem.  I wished we would have talked about the importance of controlling our thoughts, not just in this area, but in others, because it is our thoughts that lead our actions (I am speaking directly to you Brock Turner).   I told her that her dad is teaching our boys to avert their eyes when scantily clad women appear on TV or in shops, like the woman in Walmart who was wearing low-riding short-shorts paired with a crop top that revealed her thong underwear.  We talked about the importance of not taking on responsibility for how men thought or viewed them, because that is a dangerous road for so many reasons.  We also discussed how clothes will create impressions in a person's mind, how dressing appropriately for the occasion is essential, especially in an interview.  I mentioned how studies have shown that men are very visually stimulated and how one study showed that when men look at women in bikinis or underwear, the part of the brain associated with objects lights up--objects, not people.  I asked her if she would want to wear something that would peg her as an object in a man's mind?  Then my swirling thoughts finally coalesced and I was able to put the discussion in different terms.  I asked her if she had a friend who was an alcoholic, would she offer the friend a drink.  She was horrified at the thought.  I asked her then, if she thought dressing immodestly was akin to offering an alcoholic a drink and she said she would think about it more.

In light of the Stanford rape case, I am glad that we had this discussion, not because the victim dressed immodestly or even because she became drunk and "deserved it"  but because girls can't count on fathers to train their sons to respect and honor women as fellow humans in their thoughts, words and actions, protecting them at all times, especially from themselves.  But here is the rub:  even if they do train their sons to treat a woman with respect and honor, peer pressure and media messages, or the sin inside each human can subvert their efforts.  The Duggar parents are the most highly visible examples of that.  And this knowledge should humble every parent out there, especially those who are raising their kids in the fear and admonishment of the Lord. 

So I will continue to encourage my daughters to be careful how they dress as a way of honoring themselves and helping brothers who need all the help they can get.  I will also encourage them to drink moderately, not becoming drunk because a drunk woman is an easy target for boys who prefer to think of women as objects to satisfy their own desires.  I think of it as a form of self-protection.  But I also need to remind both them and myself,  that being careful is no guarantee of safety because women are raped regardless of what they wear and regardless of how much alcohol they drink.  They are raped by people they trust as well as by strangers.  They are raped walking to their car or running on a path or in their home.  The onus of preventing rape lies directly on the men, like the sweet, wonderful men who stopped Brock Turner and called the police.

And this is where I turn to another side topic, because as a parent, I can do everything I can to protect my kids from being raped or introduced to porn or becoming addicted, but I can't guarantee their safety or their faith.  Nor can I guarantee that they won't make a horrible decision as an adult or teenager like driving drunk, stealing or going on a shooting rampage because, as Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"  The only remedy and my only hope is the work of Jesus to not only forgive me for my sins, but also who changes hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. That is my prayer for my kids, that no matter what they DO, they are humble enough to confess and repent when they mess up and accept the work Jesus did on their behalf as sufficient in their lives, just as I do the same.  And I pray that they will feel God's love, mercy and kindness lifting them through and beyond the consequences of their decisions as they submit to Him.

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