Mom came into my office followed by five little stair-stepped children, each of them immediately scanning the room for toys, games, or edibles. The oldest of the bunch was the identified patient this go round. The little ones roamed the sparse floor space . The eldest sat in the chair to the left of my desk, motionless, wide-eyed, lips slightly parted.
“She is the worstest child in the world, Doctor. She never minds, she’s always back talkin’ me, and she get in trouble in school. ”
More vitriol followed. The little ones played, sparred, talked, cooed. They found the Inside Out gang on my bookshelves.
They also listened.
“The worstest child I’ve ever seen. Worstest. She need a pill to keep her quiet, to make her mind. A powerful pill.”
And then, the worstest.
“I’m just about to sign over my rights, Doctor, sign her away. Give her to somebody who thinks they can handle her, ’cause I sure cain’t. I’d just rather give her up. I don’t have no problems like this from the rest of these children.”
“How did you find out?” I asked.
“She was texting with friends, and I was trying to talk to her and she wouldn’t put the phone down. I finally told her, look, just put the phone down for a minute and talk to me, please!”
My patient rolled her eyes, noticeably and for effect, heavenward.
“Yes, and then…”
“Then it buzzed again, and I picked it up, you know, just to see who she was talking to.”
My patient looked away, not out of embarrassment, but in a rage that her mother was even telling me any of this.
“I couldn’t believe what I saw. She was sending…”
“She was sending sex pIctures of herself to this other girl, and they were sharing them, sharing them. With boys.”
“May I ask how long ago you bought your daughter her first iPhone?”
Mom looked sheepish.
“I can explain. You see, she was going to her grandmother’s after school…”
“How many years ago?” I asked gently.
“Two years ago,” said mom.
My patient was ten years old.
We are abdicating responsibility for the proper upbringing of our children.
You know, the fact is, you trade a few minutes of mind-blowing sex for a lifetime of mind-blowing hard work.
You make the decision to create this child, and give birth to this child (I use that phrase inclusively to bring fathers into this conversation as well) , and with those decisions comes almost two decades of other decisions, one on top of the other about car seats and diapers and formula and highchairs and t-ball and swimming lessons and school districts and pets and clothes and vacations and church and college and weddings and on and on.
You cannot just simply sign away your parental rights, voluntarily give up your sacred responsibility to this child. You should not and you cannot do it. It is immoral and against all the laws of nature and man to do so.
You cannot quit just because it is hard.
You also cannot expect to put one of the most advanced pocket computers in the history of man in the hands of a pre-teen and not expect that they will get into trouble with it. It’s like putting a live hand grenade into those same eight year old hands and saying, “Now, go play with this grenade and have a good time, but whatever you do, DON’T PULL THE PIN!”
Parents used to be very comfortable (too comfortable if you grew up in my generation) with laying down the rules and enforcing them to the letter. There were chores around the house that had to be done. There were curfews that had to be observed. There were expectations of behavior in school and church and other places outside the home. Infractions, failures to observe these rules and abide by these conventions from a very early age brought not only punishment swift and serious to the child, but embarrassment and likely a parental apology on the other end. Children were not allowed to drive a car until they could physically and emotionally handle the pressures, much less have indiscriminate sex.
I see so many parents today who feel impotent, powerless, out of control. Society, the Internet, clubs, gangs, all have taken over as all powerful parental surrogates, leaving the biological parents to scratch their heads and wonder what they did wrong.
Most of the time, the answer to that is NOTHING.
It is often not that parents are doing anything wrong, but that they do not feel strong enough to do what they know is RIGHT.
All of us, parents and grandparents and great grandparents, must re-learn how important we are in the raising of our children. We must be strong, model our chosen values, teach positive habits and behaviors, and never miss a chance to show and to say how very proud we are of our kids.
We do have a choice.
We just have to make it.