I was fortunate enough to be raised in a house cluttered (a generous understatement) with books, magazines, and newspapers, by parents who read them and expected their two children to own the same passion for lifelong learning by reading. We also watched a good bit of television (all seven channels, in black and white), and since we only had two TVs in the house — one in the master bedroom and a small one in the kitchen to watch Walter Cronkite read us the news every evening over dinner — we tended to watch and discuss our favorite programs together. Needless to say, there was no shortage of teachable moments — and opportunities to discuss them — when I was growing up.
Today, it is clear that people get their information from a diffuse array of sources and often not from network TV and the few “newspapers of record” that informed practically everyone back in the day. Whether one thinks this is a good development, a dangerous one, or a double-edged sword, it seems to me that recent events might make us want to hit “pause” and ask ourselves: “What are the children seeing?” “What do they think?” And, then: “What should we parents be teaching them?”
Let’s begin here. Without getting into the specifics of what may or may not have happened in the lives of some people who find themselves in the headlines and in the crosshairs of public opinion:
> It is never appropriate or acceptable (and, in fact, it is illegal) to jump on top of another person and touch them sexually without their consent. That includes touching them over clothing. It doesn’t matter the age, the place, or the situation, what’s wrong is wrong; if someone wants to defend that sort of behavior, they can call their mother first.
> Underage drinking by minors with the purpose of getting drunk is ill-advised, inappropriate, unacceptable and illegal (whether or not an adult is present in the house where the underage drinking occurs).
> Drinking to the point of inebriation by anyone at any age is dumb and ill-advised and almost always leads to trouble. Always have your wits about you in every situation.
> Don’t lie. We all make mistakes. Own them, even if the consequences of disclosure are severe.
> All mistakes matter no matter when in our lives they occur. Some mistakes, whenever we make them, will impact us forever. It’s not always fair, but that’s the way it is.
> Apologizing after making a mistake is not a sign of weakness; making the same mistake twice is.
> It is easier to ask for and receive forgiveness if you tell the truth.
While they might not discuss current events with parents, know that most children and teenagers see what is going on around them. They hear opinions of others — especially their friends — and may even be forming some of their own. Talk to them. Ask them what it is that they have seen and heard. Ask them what they think and how they feel about it. And make sure they learn the lessons you want them to learn from it.
After all, a teachable moment is a terrible thing to waste.