Jewish World ReviewApril 12, 1999 /26 Nissan 5759
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I remember when I was a kid on Long Island, we lived in one of those developments with four or five styles of houses repeating a pattern for some 10 blocks. It was easy to find playmates; we just went outside to find boys and girls playing separately or together. As kids do, we got into our share of arguments, fights and mischief. What was different then was that there was always a parent around to intercede to improve the situation, or at least break it up long enough for a rethinking and re-establishment of friendship.
More important, parents were a network of reporting and supporting.
Reporting meant that if someone's kid was doing something really bad (small annoyances were dealt with and ended on the spot), you can be sure that the observer would tell that kid's parents. Basic values about child-rearing and expectations of appropriate behavior were largely shared. When a parent went to another parent's home to confront an issue involving a child, they were met with cooperation and respect, not defensive belligerence.
The whole time I was growing up I never remember hearing a parent say, "This is my family and my children -- don't you tell me what to do!" Instead, I often heard, "Thank you so much for telling me about what Johnny/Mary did. I will be sure to talk to him/her and punish him/her."
With all this networking and cooperation, kids were held in check to a greater degree than today. This didn't mean that kids didn't push the limits or get into trouble. But it did mean that the magnitude and frequency of bad behavior was much less, and therefore less damage was done to self and others.
One mother called to tell me that her 16-year-old daughter went on a ski trip with her girlfriend's parents and three other girls. But it turned out, four boys were secretly brought along. It seems that the girlfriend's parents wanted to please their birthday daughter with a present of boys. All the girls were told not to tell their own parents lest they not be allowed to go.
Many parents, trying to bring their children up to respect vows and covenants, such as marriage, are confused about whether to let their children go to the homes of friends whose parents are divorced, or never married and shacking up with some honey. Others call to ask if it will be detrimental for their children to have a friend whose parents let their child's boy- or girlfriend sleep over all the time.
Decent parents are now left questioning themselves, as in some twisted "Twilight Zone" episode. Consider Betsy's letter: "My husband, children (boy, age 12, and girl, age 16) and I are very involved in our Episcopal church. Many times the kids have overnight 'field trips' to the cathedral, youth forums, etc.
The dilemma is: The boys and girls sleep anywhere they want to. There are adults present, but the kids can sleep next to each other if they want to. No separation of the sexes. My daughter's boyfriend also attends. I have made it clear to her that she is not to sleep next to her boyfriend. I have asked the leadership of the church to make a policy that on overnights, the boys be separated from the girls. Am I being too uptight?"
How confounding it is to have to ask if you are upside-down, when it is clearly the world that is upside-down! How devastating it is to parents to not have their religious leaders and teachers uphold basic considerations of modesty and the morality that defines it. The more that familiarity between the sexes is normalized in pseudo-sexual ways, the more permission is given to move away from values of respect for the sacredness of intimacy. This same pattern is seen in colleges and universities across America, where co-ed dorms and opposite-sex sleepover "privileges" have become routine.
Perhaps a child shall lead them. A recent letter from a parent swelling with pride relates the reaction of her 13-year-old daughter to a P.E. dance class. Her daughter went to the P.E. instructor with the following: "I don't feel comfortable dancing arm in arm with a boy at 13 years old. We just spent two quarters of science studying explicit sex in a co-ed environment and, now that the boys' hormones are bouncing off the walls, you want the girls to dance cheek-to-cheek with these hormones. First of all, the girls were not comfortable learning about sexual relationships with the boys present. We are only 13-year-olds, and it isn't fair to put us into such an uncomfortable position."
Of course, this young lady's remarks fell upon deaf ears at her progressive
public school. However, a parade starts with a single
03/31/99: Children need attention before they cry out for it