Parents Should Raise the Bar for Their Kids

Rebecca Hagelin
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Posted: Mar 10, 2009 4:33 PM
Parents Should Raise the Bar for Their Kids

Spring break is in full swing for many college students across the country. And believe me, when I say "full swing," I mean full-rockin', rollin' party-hearty swinging!

But given that nearly all of these students’ lifestyles are still funded by their parents, and that nearly all are still under the legal drinking age, it makes me wonder: What are their parents thinking?

As a mom of two college men I actually find it fairly easy to boldly proclaim: "If you are livin' on my dime, then you are livin' by my rules."

My rules for them as adults are actually filled with freedom, coupled with the principle of "self government." They were raised with this consistent theme, and they understand that my husband and I practice the "abuse and lose" approach. (I.e., they have both freedom and our full support as long as they follow basic rules that provide for their safety, moral development, and future.)

Of course, I can hear the naysayers now: "But they’re adults. You can't tell adult children what to do." To this I simply answer, "BALONEY!"

I am a much-older adult, and I understand that an employer can impose certain codes and expectations for my behavior on me. That's the deal in life -- you work for someone, you have to play by their rules. (Of course I know they can't trample your basic rights, deny civil liberties, etc. So don't go there. You know what I'm talking about.)

The young college men in my life -- of whom I am so very proud and blessed to be called their "mom" -- also know that my husband and I are fully committed to them as individuals and will provide plenty of opportunities for good, safe fun.

Let's get back to Spring Break as an example. Instead of shrugging our shoulders and letting them go off to some distant beach where mayhem, alcohol and "Girls Gone Wild" abound, I booked a house at our favorite beach, which is located on a barrier island on Florida's Gulf Coast. With no bridge (you have to get here by boat) and no bars, this break is a lot safer and a lot more meaningful than what many are experiencing.

One of my dear friends has a house nearby and her daughter, also on Spring Break, has brought about nine of her "best friends" too. So, there's plenty of social activity, fun and friendship without the nonsense. The kids go back and forth between our houses, so my friend and I both get to spend time with them and listen to their entertaining -- and interesting -- chatter.

Last night the gang was at my friend's house and the main topic of conversation proved an-eye-opening, mind-numbing experience for her.

Most of the girls on this trip are freshmen, and somehow the conversation led to a shared humiliating experience now common at most college campuses: the mandatory co-ed, sex-ed course they all attended during their first few weeks on campus. They described the graphic nature of the class, and how embarrassed and outraged they were when they were shown how to put a condom on a banana.

But then it got worse -- they were all encouraged to do the condom/banana exercise, too. The girls spoke of how a couple of their fellow students seemed to take great pride at their skill in demonstrating what seemed an all-too-familiar maneuver. However, my young friends said they were mortified and left the course feeling "trashy" and belittled by administration officials who expect them to all behave like wild animals in heat. "They seemed to be encouraging us to be sexually active," one member of the volley ball team said. "I was insulted and offended by the entire experience."

This particular young co-ed had gone to a private Christian high school, so she had managed to escape the low expectations that many educators bring to today's youth. She and her mom weren’t aware that in today's public schools, millions of boys and girls are now, indeed, treated as if they are going to be sex-crazed creatures and, therefore, are actually encouraged to engage in risky behavior.

Face it: When an adult in authority stands in front of the classroom and directs graphic discussions of sex in every form, forces boys and girls to sit by each other throughout the humiliating lectures, and then further violates the child's natural tendencies to be private or modest, then you end up with kids who follow what they’ve been taught. On the other hand, when kids are treated with dignity, taught the value of abstinence, and how to avoid placing themselves in compromising situations in the first place, the research shows that more of them do, indeed, respond by adopting a lifestyle of self-control and more responsible behavior than those drowning in "sex ed". Also critical to the delayed on-set of sexual activity is parental involvement. I can not overstate the influence that loving, connected parents have on their teens and young adult children. You'll find loads of data and research on both points at www.abstinenceclearninghouse.com and www.familyfacts.org

Which, once again, brings me back to the plethora of wild Spring Break "pah-tays" going on around the country as you read this. I wonder: if more public junior high and high schools joined hands with more parents in teaching abstinence education, the concepts of self-worth and basic morality, wouldn’t our nation's kids have a higher view of themselves and rise to meet the expectations?

And if colleges and parents expected better of our kids, wouldn’t more of them choose the higher ground? If more parents took the effort to provide safer -- but still "way fun" -- supervised beach trips and other options for college kids, would more of them opt for something other than the drunken orgies that many Spring Break trips have become? In short, are older adults getting exactly the type of behavior from young adults that we expect?

Granted, my personal "focus group" is small. But the data, my experience, and the e-mails I receive from thousands of people tell me this: Young adults are still malleable, still looking for direction, and still crave to rise above the status quo. But they need help and encouragement. They need to be told that they can be self-controlled people of strong character, and they need to be provided with opportunities to thrive, have fun, and become men and women they can be proud of.

Young adults rise or fall to the expectation levels set for them. Will you help raise the bar?