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Jewish World Review /Feb. 9, 1999 /23 Shevat, 5759

Dr. Laura

Dr. Laura Youth's difficult lessons make us better adults

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) IT IS SAD HOW MANY FOLKS seem to want to be trained chickens instead of human beings who can aspire toward the divine.

Case in point: A mother recently called my program concerned about the "lesson her son was learning." She told me that she and her husband had found out their otherwise good 16-year-old son had broken a family rule. She said he accepted his punishment with class and seemed truly remorseful. For one month he was not permitted any social life. Additionally, he was forbidden to play in the next three team games.

Of course, he had to explain to his coach why his parents had yanked him out of three games. The coach was respectful of his family's decision, although he was disappointed to temporarily lose a good player. He asked the boy what he had done to warrant his punishment. The boy told the coach that he had drunk alcohol with some of his buddies.

Here's where the athletic socks hit the fan. There are strict rules in the school and for the team against drugs and alcohol. The coach informed him that the penalty for such a first-time offense was three weeks on the bench, which amounted to many more games missed.

This is where I came in. The mother was worried that her son was learning the wrong lesson. I asked what wrong lesson that might be. She said, "That it is better to lie. Now he's got a double whammy: punishment from us and from the coach. Is that fair?"

Yes, it is fair. Unlike what we hear from liberal pundits and presidential supporters, there is very little that goes on in our private lives that doesn't affect others. They can be affected directly, as in losing a game, because a player's abilities and attitude are compromised by drugs and alcohol; or indirectly, as in family, friends, community, school and team losing respect and support because of bad personal behavior of team members. And never mind the deaths due to overdoses and drunk driving.

It is a sad mentality that visualizes the individual as separate from everyone and everything else. This mentality has been glorified since the 1960s to excuse much bad behavior. ("What I do is my own business, and any problem you have with that is just that -- your problem.") In reality, our choices have far-reaching impact in many directions.

I explained to the mother that her son has indeed learned a mighty lesson.

What we do is meaningful not only to our parents and friends who love us, but also to our teammates, who count on us, and our community, which wants to look up to us. The son broke family rules and was punished for it by his family. He broke team rules and was punished for it by his team. He failed to live up to friends' expectations and will likely pay a price there, too, until he demonstrates he's back on track.

While that seems like the "bad news," it's actually very good news. How can this boy ever have a sense of meaning and importance in his life if he believes that what he does ultimately doesn't matter to anyone else? That belief can lead only to total isolation.

And last, but not least, is the issue of his character and his very soul.

Sure, he could have avoided team punishment by lying; he could have said his mother was mad because he gave her lip when she told him to clean up his room. He could have quibbled about the definition of "drinking" -- maybe wine is not as serious as vodka, and maybe eating cheese with the wine made it more classy and less naughty. That might have saved him the three-week benching. It would also have benched the development of his character and the quality of his soul.

Trained chickens peck at the right button and receive corn for their efforts. Why didn't her son receive a concrete reward for telling the coach that he drank?

He did.

It is unfortunate that avoiding consequences and not being held accountable for one's actions is often seen as a reward. This is the wrong lesson. It teaches that simply owning up exonerates you. Imagine the world of murder and mayhem that would result from everybody summarily owning up and going free to hurt again. Telling the truth and paying the consequences are critical to the development of integrity, character and holiness.

These attributes far outweigh the instant gratification of trained chickens.


02/02/99:Rituals, icons remind us of our obligation to G-d
01/22/99: 'Consenting adults' don't always examine consequences
01/18/99: Day care no substitute for love of mom and dad
01/08/99: Don't use others' misfortunes to build your self-image
12/31/98: Tracking HIV-infected people makes good sense
12/24/98: How can we teach ethics without defining morals?
12/18/98: Parents afraid of firm values leave their children adrift
12/11/98: Spread righteousness by refusing to accept the 'code'

©1998,Universal Press Syndicate