The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark. ~Michelangelo
Like many mornings, I had the television tuned into a local morning show as I got ready for my day. The two co-hosts were talking about a picture that had been trending of a politician’s 18 year old daughter at a concert, appearing to be smoking marijuana. I don’t usually give my full attention to morning shows, I just like the background noise. But this day, one host asked the other “when your daughter is 18, do you think you would care if you found out she was smoking pot?” To which the other host replied “hmmm, I’d have to think about that, but I don’t think it would be a big deal… there are a lot worse things that she could be doing.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The host who had asked the question just nodded along, adding “I think the stats are pretty consistent that most kids do try pot by this age.” It really bothered me all morning.
Because I was already troubled by this exchange, I was more tuned in to other examples like this as the week went on. In a Facebook group dedicated to the community where I live, a woman posted looking for advice about middle-schoolers that were standing throwing large rocks at a stop sign (with elementary kids crossing the street and cars parked nearby). When she asked the kids to stop throwing the rocks, they laughed, flipped her off and continued with even more gusto. I was surprised that about 90% of the responses were that they were “just being kids” and “we all used to do things like that.”
To round the topic out, I was with a group of parents who were discussing the antics of young Hollywood – from Justin Bieber speeding through his residential neighborhood to the star of Disney’s Jessie getting a DUI to countless pro sports figures being arrested for everything from DUI to domestic violence to drugs. Again, I was surprised at how many people in this group said things like “we all made mistakes when we were young, too” and “these are just first world problems.”
Kids will make mistakes, and it’s important to keep them in perspective when they do. But it seems that some have slid into a lazy parenting stance that because we assume they will make mistakes, we should make excuses or not set a very high standard to begin with. Bad judgment is bringing a phone into class when it’s not allowed. Property damage, DUIs, criminal behavior, and cruel behavior toward others should never be followed by sayings so trite as “there are worse things they could be doing,” “this is what kids do,” or “we did stupid things when we were young, too.” This will not become my parenting anthem. I can accept a mistake, and I will support my daughter in learning from her mistakes. But I don’t appreciate those whose lenient commentary on what so many young people are doing make it seem inevitable and acceptable for her to make seriously poor choices. The “I was a moron, so you should count on being one too” attitude just doesn’t work for me. Here’s what does:
Aim higher. When you set expectations for your kids, set them high. Kids tend to live up to the expectations set for them. Make sure they know that you expect them to behave in a way that will make them, and you, proud. They need to know that you understand that they may be curious about drugs and alcohol, but you expect them not to try alcohol until they are of legal age (and how about never for drugs). If your child is heading back to school, tell her that you expect that she will be kind to peers and respectful to teachers and staff.
Call People Out. Had my daughter seen the host of the morning show say that she wouldn’t think discovering her daughter was smoking pot was a big deal, I would have said “Wow, maybe she doesn’t realize the effects of marijuana! What if her daughter was driving herself home after that? Or what if someone else who had been smoking pot was driving her daughter home – would it be a big deal then? And maybe she forgot the bottom line that it’s illegal!”
When Ben Affleck was allegedly intoxicated while on a sports show, many commentators essentially said “well, maybe it’s not such a big deal… I mean it’s a sports show for guys!” I asked my daughter if she was lucky enough to be invited onto a television show, how impressed does she think her friends and family would be to watch her be drunk? Would she be proud of her appearance? Her dad coaches sports – would it be okay if he showed up to practice cussing and intoxicated if he was coaching a bunch of guys? I’m guessing he chooses to aim higher.
That explains it, it doesn’t excuse it. This is one of my favorite sayings. And sometimes I do feel the need to show some understanding and benevolence. If my daughter tells me about a girl who was mean to another girl because she was trying to gain the attention of a group she wants to be a part of, I may say “I understand how important it is to fit in, I’m sure she was feeling a lot of pressure. That may explain why she did it, but it doesn’t excuse it. She needs to try harder and do better to do the right thing.” There are also times that I just call a spade a spade. A certain swimmer lying about being robbed at the Olympics? I flat out told my daughter that I thought it was idiotic, and pointed out how he let down his teammates and lost the respect of many nations, not to mention losing millions in endorsements. Sometimes dumb is just dumb, and it’s okay to point it out.
As much as I wish I could tune out our celebrity culture, this is what kids talk about a lot and see on television and social media. What celebrities do, and how others talk about it, becomes a benchmark, and this finds its way into the lives of our kids. I generally focus on my daughter and the people who are directly in her life, but I can’t ignore the fact that some of what her peers do has a direct correlation to what they’ve seen from celebrities. In other words, I wish I didn’t know why Taylor Swift is mad at Kanye West, but sadly I do.
Our kids are listening. They listen when they hear stories of other young people – famous or not – making mistakes that could have dire consequences. And if they hear us making excuses for poor behavior and suggesting that this is a part of growing up, they will assume that this is precisely where the bar is set for them. Do something dangerous or irresponsible and we will find a suitable excuse for you. Make sure your children understand what you expect of them by sharing your principles with them and by how you evaluate the behaviors of those in the world around them.