Jewish World Review July 7, 2006 / 11 Tamuz 5766

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Parent should protect kids from themselves | I sat mouth agape as I watched parents sit with their young daughter on "Good Morning America" as she recounted her tale of flying to the Middle East to attempt to meet her "" boyfriend.

This is the then-16 year old Michigan girl who recently made national news when she was able get onto a plane all the way to Jordan in an attempt to finally see the man she had only met online, before the FBI got to her and returned her to the states. On the set of GMA, she described how she "loved" the 20-year-old she had never actually laid eyes on — and was absolutely determined to marry him. In a pre-taped interview from her erstwhile boyfriend, the parents and their daughter watched as the Palestinian explained that the two "can't live without each other."

(He also said that she would be converting to Islam. That was apparently news to the girl.)

Here's what dad then explained to millions of viewers. ... the girl and her boyfriend are communicating again now that she's home. Why? Well, "Our initial reaction was to isolate her, to lock her up and just keep her safe here in America. But that's unrealistic because you can see the love they have for each other."

Um, what?

Earth to parents everywhere: Twenty-year-old guys — I don't care where they are from — are not interested in a 16-year-old-girl's personality or view of world politics. Meanwhile, this girl (who turned 17 only last week) is deeply infatuated with a man she has never met — a man who lives in a dangerous part of the world, a place where women are routinely treated as property.

And the dad's response is, "You can see the love they have for each other"?

No, I can't. I can see the unrealistic part about locking her up. If a child wants to go to the Middle East and does, I'd say that horse has left that barn. But who knows? Maybe these parents are, in reality, going to try to wean her off this guy.

This isn't really about these particular parents, anyway.

This is about the fact that no one should be shocked that a child left to her own devices would attempt to get on plane to the Middle East to meet a lover. The shock should be that she got away with it, not that so many teens are capable of trying it.

In our culture we desperately want to see wisdom and discernment in kids, instead of recognizing that kids desperately need our wisdom and discernment for their own protection! Interestingly, there are MRI studies which show that teenage brains are not done maturing (I know — duh) and so teens are governed by the emotional parts of their brains, whereas we adults tend to use the areas of our brains related to judgment and planning to make decisions.

Look, I've got at least one young child who even now would probably think it fun to talk her way onto a plane to the Middle East — and might well be successful in doing so. I have got my work cut out for me, and I see that! But I also see my "work" as being grounded in the fact that I have wisdom my kids don't, that they are capable of doing really crazy stuff, and that I am more concerned that they like me when they are 30, not 13. My job is to protect them from themselves, not acquiesce to their passions of the moment by, for instance, publicly ratifying on national television the "love" of teenage girl for a man she has never met except on-line.

Our kids deserve so much better than that from us — and what happened to this young girl should be a wake-up call to parents everywhere that our "work" has to start a whole lot earlier than 16.

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"It Takes a Parent : How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting Our Kids — and What to Do About It"  

"Hart urges parents to focus...on instilling industry, frugality, sincerity and humility. She encourages parents to reclaim the word "no." Contrary to advice you may have received, you needn't give your child choices, or offer alternatives, or explain to little Suzie why she can't eat eight cookies right before bed-you're the parent, and sometimes you can just say no."

  —   Kirkus Reports

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