- - Sunday, January 15, 2012

Culture challenge of the week: Parents who won’t parent

The new Fox TV show “I Hate My Teenage Daughter” aired an episode recently that provoked passionate debate among real-life moms. The episode followed a mom’s reaction when her 14-year-old daughter wanted to date an older teen — a teenage dad.

One viewer turned to her peers on a popular blog site for moms, CafeMom, and asked, “Would you let your teenage daughter [age 14] date a guy who has a baby?”

While many of the moms said no (often saying they wouldn’t let a 14-year-old date anyone) a few flakes said yes, and a significant number waffled.

The wafflers trouble me most.

Many wafflers were moms who felt a decision like this — whether their 14-year-old should go out with a teen father — wasn’t theirs to make. As parents, they could only speak their piece and hope for the best. Rules? Futile.

In their world, teens call the shots. Parental wisdom stacks up as one opinion among many — advice to be considered, or not. Whether a teen will follow parental advice on dating is no more predictable than a roll of the dice.

“I would try to persuade her not to,” one mom said.

“I doubt I would have a choice, but I wouldn’t like it,” another said.

A third chimed in with a fatalistic virtual shrug, “You can’t really control love.”

Teen dating decisions, for these moms, clearly fall within the realm of personal autonomy, and so a daughter’s autonomy (at 14!) would be absolute. Like selecting perfume, the choice of whom they will spend time alone with becomes a matter of distinctly personal preference, impervious to rules or objective measure.

And so, if these parents think they ought to suspend their parental judgment in favor of adolescent preference, what, then, is a parent’s role? To “support” — financially and emotionally — their teen’s decisions, regardless of whether those decisions are moral and prudent.

It’s a secular parenting philosophy that extends beyond dating decisions to nearly every aspect of teenagers’ lives — friends, music, school, media, faith. Teenage autonomy trumps parental authority.

The stage has been set for years. From cartoons to children’s books to adolescent literature to school sex-ed classes, the cultural message is that parents are either clueless buffoons or old-school tyrants. And if parents don’t willingly grant autonomy to their teens, then kids need a work-around (often provided by “teen advocates” with their own agenda).

Too often, parents themselves buy into this philosophy. As a result, according to R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, parents “have largely become passive facilitators in the lives of their children.”

How to save your family with loving direction (authority)

These waffling moms need to take off their blinders. With eyes wide open, they need to look around and realize that they, not their teens, are the grown-ups in the room.

Teens simply don’t have the knowledge, maturity and wisdom to make adult judgments. That’s why they have us.

Parents possess experience and wisdom children won’t have for years. Even a mature teenager cannot easily envision — by herself — the full, long-term consequences of her actions. She hasn’t lived long enough and doesn’t know enough. An adult, on the other hand, presumably is aware of the consequences of early dating — and the risks of dating an older male whose values and self-control are in doubt.

Most of the moms in this online conversation had the right instincts — they knew the right decision. What they lacked was the confidence and will to act; they lacked the confidence and will to parent.

And that’s not OK. Parents have more than wisdom and years — we have a responsibility given by God to train our children in the way they should go (Proverbs 12:6). It’s an ongoing responsibility — a gift to our children — that does not end magically when a child hits 13. Or 15. Or 17.

Loving parental authority not only teaches children right from wrong but also helps them develop prudence, exercise gradual independence and assume greater personal responsibility on the path to adulthood.

Teenagers need their parents.

And parents need to parent.

Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at rebecca@howtosaveyourfamily.com.