I have two children, the youngest of which is eleven, nearing twelve. Depending on where you live and who you ask that is fairly young, certainly not ready to be out on his own in the world and yet there are eleven year olds in just that situation. But old enough that he should not be hidden from the world either. It is a very fine line, between too much information and too little information for this age.
There is the philosophy that if you don’t tell them about certain things (presumably things about which you do not want them to know) they will not know of or conceive of such things. This has not worked well for the advocates of never tell teens about sex – I guess certain things you can figure out on your own. That would be what we call the ignorance is bliss camp. I don’t really think ignorance is bliss, I think it is ignorance – the absence of personal knowledge doesn’t make something go away it just makes you less aware of things that exist in the world.
Then there is the alternate philosophy of tell them everything you know and let them figure out what they want to do with it – this isn’t actually a philosophy that I am aware of, I’m making this up and it felt like the natural opposite of the ignorance camp. Most of us probably lie somewhere in the vast middle of the spectrum between the two opposites. It starts when children of a young age start to ask “why” – every exhausted parents favorite game – and it never stops because somewhere around adolescence they do one of two things: 1) stop asking you why and rely on the wisdom of their peers, or 2) continue to ask you questions that become exceedingly uncomfortable to answer. You have to work on refining the art of giving enough information to answer the question appropriately without giving so much that you overwhelm them completely. This is hard.
The eleven year old that has inspired me today is not a big asker of “why.” He never really has been. But he is a responder to information and sometimes, oftentimes he has information that we want to ask “where” regarding – as in “where the hell did that come from.” But he is thoughtful, observant and sage beyond his years when it comes to many things. He is also an eleven year old boy and there are certain things happening inside him that are apparently normal in the development of eleven year old boys but that are completely foreign to me.
So we come to the crux of the matter and that would be my self-assessment as having descended into knowing bad parenting. I have made plenty of mistakes with both of my children, and then I have made some affirmative choices knowing that it was probably a bad idea but going ahead anyway. I, and really we because my husband has strolled down this path with me hand-in-hand, decided that too much information in certain contexts is fine – the boy will do what he wants with it and better for it to not be taboo – that is the theory. This was very similar to my husband’s argument for letting him have toy guns, “trust me,” he said, “if we let him play with the toys he’ll outgrow it and not be interested in them.” The boy is eager to learn to shoot a real gun this summer, so that he may hunt in subsequent years – my husband it would seem was wrong. But despite this evidence we have plowed ahead in letting him know what there is of the world, at least the parts that are not entirely odious to us, and also, selfishly we want to be able to watch TV and movies and it seems that if we don’t watch with the kids we will never watch anything.
They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions; I say sometimes we turn a corner not knowing what we will find and then we are left to deal with whatever it is that was found. The problem started when we began watching Glee which we believed to be a fun family show. It was fun, but perhaps not for someone who at the time was 10. An hour episode on Tivo took a full sixty minutes to get through as we paused to explain masturbation, pre-mature ejaculation, teen hormonal behaviors, etc. Fabulous – we learned so much.
That was an accident – we did not know what we were to find around that corner – but we dealt with it as mature people do and did not shy away from a frank conversation about sexuality.
Now I will digress slightly to explain that I am a huge fan of Judd Apatow and the comedy he is producing – it is smart, emotionally honest, and captures a great comedic sense of real people. Most of what I find in his films is real, and if I don’t approve of all of it I at least respect the depiction. So this is background for the intentional mistake and the reason why I declare boldly in the title: Bad Parents.
My husband and I wanted to see Get Him to the Greek – the description sounded basically okay, no violence with is the big thing we want to keep from the children, just sex, drugs and rock and roll – how bad or graphic can it be. I am a bad parent – we all laughed until it hurt, I was crying it was so funny – we had a good conversation about right and wrong and the complex nature of relationships – both of the kids now have swaths of faux-fur hanging on their bedroom walls because “when life hands you a Jeffrey you stroke the furry wall” (by which they mean when they have a bad day, not when they smoke a cocktail of drugs)– enough said.
And now when the eleven year old wants to watch a movie that we know is not really appropriate for his age he says, “it can’t be worse than Get Him to the Greek.” He’s a smart guy. For the most part they aren’t worse, but we don’t let him watch all of what he wants – smart humor, even if graphic he can see – insipid pandering we avoid. The rule is just because you hear it said does not mean you can repeat it, and we always discuss – oh so much discussion in our house, “why do you think he acted like that,” “what could he have done differently,” “that seemed like a bad idea because…” We can’t protect them form everything in the world, perhaps we could have kept it hidden for a little longer – maybe, maybe, maybe – I’ll just do what I can.