Because life is a series of edits

Kids (and Parents) These Days

In Calling, Church, Family, Holidays, Humanity, Places & Spaces, Thought, Westminster, Young Ones on December 19, 2009 at 9:38 am

Megan and I had a memorable evening Friday night that got us talking about some things that, well, we're not sure we're excited to be talking about. Maybe we're showing our age or our upbringing, but last night was an introspective evening for us in a lot of ways.

The cause of this introspection was Westminster's Christmas Banquet – a formal, end-of-semester dinner for which we were asked last-minute to serve as chaperones. Being the cheapskates we are, we were happy to get gussied up for four hours with 500 of our closest high school-age friends – the food at the Airport Hilton was decent, the service was good, and it was a nice way to officially kick off Christmas Break (even though I've STILL got grading to do this weekend to meet the Monday morning deadline).

Our first moment of introspection came as we dropped our four girls off at our pastor's house for the evening. Our daughters and their daughters (four also) are all roughly the same ages and absolutely love each other, so that wasn't the issue; what was different was Andrew and Lisa also had a Christmas party Friday evening, so the eight little ladies were going to be on their own for the night. As their oldest is 12 and our oldest is ten days from being 11, we were okay with this, but it was a bit surreal leaving the girls without adult supervision for four hours. It seemed we'd crossed a threshold of sorts, so we talked about it for the 15-minute drive to the hotel and decided that, indeed, we had.

When we showed up (early) for the banquet, we found our seats (in back), so we sat and talked about what we might expect this evening. Megan doesn't know many of my students as their paths don't really cross, so the evening was going to be a parade of nameless high schoolers for her; I, on the other hand, knew probably half of the students by name from class or the hallways, and was excited to see them in a different light, one which might give a hint into who they are and are becoming outside of my classroom.

Unfortunately, what I got was an eyeful of how little parents seem to care about their kids (especially their daughters).

With guys in tuxedos and girls in dresses, we expected to see a fair amount of awkwardness as the students adjusted to their fancy duds; what we didn't expect was the ridiculous amounts of make-up, skin, and cleavage we were bombarded with, nor the (short) leather skirts and (tall) stiletto heels that came with them. I couldn't count the number of times I saw girls having to pull up the tight tops of their low strapless dresses in an honest effort to keep themselves from walking right out of them.

The guys were awkward in their own way (one freshman actually wore his cumberbund up around his ribs all night and looked like a mover in one of those support belts to aid his bad back), but you can't tell me they didn't enjoy just sitting back and taking in everything that was about to fall out right before their eyes. I've never seen these guys smile as much as they did last night.

At the risk of sounding like a puritanical prude, the question that kept coming to my mind was "Where are the parents?" Oh, I forgot: they were busy planning the "after-party," the non-WCA-sponsored dance at another hotel where, from reports I always get from the kids the week after such events, is where the real party happens.

Apparently, in addition to providing the DJ and dance floor, these parents "supervise" the opportunity for high school students to "grind" on one another to their hearts' (among other bodily organs') content. I can't count the number of students who've asked me over the past three years if grinding is wrong – they bring it up every time we study (get this) the seventh commandment prohibiting adultery. When I tell them that, yes, grinding is wrong because it's basically "sex with clothes on," you wouldn't believe the pushback I get. You'd think I had accused Bill Clinton of having sex with Monica Lewinsky or something.

This – all this – made up the discussion Megan and I had on the drive back to pick up the girls. If we enroll the girls at WCA (or any school), do they accept a boy's invitation to be his date at a banquet. If they want to, sure, so long as she's dressed appropriately (that is, wearing clothes) and simply going to enjoy the evening with a friend who happens to be male. Do we let them go to "after parties"? A trickier question, but one we will hopefully attempt to answer with them by talking about all the realities in play. Decisions like these come down to clued-in parent involvement – both now and (for us, at least, before) – and I'd sure like to see more of this informed kind at WCA.

Granted, not every WCA student nor every WCA parent is suspect in this, and I could name plenty of students who were appropriately dressed at the banquet who probably didn't attend the after-party due to parental intervention. But as a current high school teacher and future high school parent, let me encourage anyone with kids to re-consider the fact that no one's going to parent your kids for you; frankly, God didn't give us the option when he gave them to us. Hear the words of Deuteronomy 6:5-7:

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You
shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them
when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you
lie down, and when you rise."

In other words, we are to parent according to our love for God and the words of his Scripture, and we are to parent as we (and they) go. There are no breaks; it's 24-7, baby, and we will be held accountable for every decision we make (or don't make) in training up our children in the way they should go. Might I humbly suggest that public cleavage and grinding have no place in this biblical equation? God help us all.

  1. I chaperoned a dance for the school M used to work at a year and a half ago and the students were all dressed modestly, they had a band playing jazz and the kids did fun swing and ballroom and there was no grinding in sight. It’s a much smaller upper school, but the culture didn’t leave room for those sorts of behaviors. But it never had.
    School culture is an interesting beast. As a “covenant school” (vs. a Christian school with a more evangelistic mission) you would hope that the families would bring similar expectations to the table, but oftentimes they don’t, and it either ends up seeming legalistic if the most stringent guidelines are adhered to or hedonistic and secular if it sinks to the least common denominator families. I don’t think there is a quick fix to these sorts of issues.

  2. Wow. What a sad story. I’m curious as to how much authority you had as a chaperone to “step in” and say knock it off, or if that would not have gone over well. There’s been a big hullabaloo out here with public schools pulling the plug on DJs because the dancing gets too out of hand.
    But at a Christian school? Wow. I’m sorry you had to deal with this. I appreciate your exhortation, and will be praying for discernment (both for you and me).

  3. Good writing. Not a surprise at all though. It doesn’t take a Christmas dance to see the lack of supervision/interaction between parents and their kids…it is sadly quite evident on any particular day.
    Perhaps the parents need the Christian ethics class more than the students?

  4. Kristen, part of the problem (from my perspective, at least) is that our school is more evangelical than Reformed, by which I mean that only about 40% of the student body are actually coming from an family-acknowledged “covenant” background.
    Jake, the problem apparently has gone on for a while. A student read my post here and agreed with my observations, but said the grinding at the after-party wasn’t as bad as he’s seen it in the past. That’s good (I think).
    Colin, a wise friend (who has since passed on) once told me that there’s no such thing as illegitimate children, just illegitimate parents. I’ve always thought that rang true. And yes, I would volunteer to teach a weekly evening course to parents, but no one would show.

  5. Dude, I’m with you, and we are Unitarians! I sometimes see how kids (and adults) are dressed for work/school/church/life and am horrified. The problem with the weekly evening course IS that anyone who showed up would probably not need more than one class.
    On the other hand, my daughter got a doll that had a bikini for Christmas. Both my kids looked and said, “Mommy HATES those. She’d never let you wear one!” Must be getting the message across.

  6. Hi, I meandered over here by following a post your wife wrote for worldmagblog. Turns out that I likely know some of your students, because my husband and I work in a St. Louis church’s youth ministry and I have a bunch of WCA sophomore girls in my small group. This post grabbed my attention because this (skimpy clothing) is an issue that we have to deal with at church sometimes, too, and because I bemoaned much of the same thing as I looked through CB photos on Facebook. Thank you for your words of encouragement to parents at the end – my husband and I are raising 4 young boys, and those verses are what keep me motivated when I’m exhausted and tempted to hand the parenting of them over to someone else for a bit.

  7. Four young boys, Jamie? We should talk. Since becoming a parent of four girls, I’ve come to think the whole arranged marriage thing is not all that bad an idea. Have your people call my people and we’ll do lunch and negotiate.

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