A few months ago, two Ohio teens were on trial for allegedly raping a girl who was too drunk to know what was happening to her. When the girl figured out through social media what had occurred, she decided to press charges. Both boys were star athletes on the football team. Many adults in the town were in an uproar over what would happen to their beloved football team if these boys were found guilty. The girl reported that one of the boys called her and begged her not to press charges because it would ruin his football career.
If this was your daughter, how would you feel? If these were your sons, would you want them to face the consequences or get off?
"This is an interesting situation," says Dr. Bill Doherty, professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota and author of "Take Back Your Kids." "The idolatry of sports and athletes getting a free pass for bad behavior has moved from professional sports all the way down to the high school level, sending the message that team success trumps inappropriate behavior. We can't let them fail because it would hurt the entire school."
This kind mindset encourages irresponsible behavior and sends the message that they are above the rules, according to Doherty.
"This kind of thinking is pervasive across the country," he says. "Teens are caught smoking weed, drinking under age or drinking and driving and, instead of facing the natural consequences of doing something illegal, parents seek to protect their children. I can remember a time when people looked down on bad behavior. Now they make excuses for it, thinking they are helping their children when, in reality, they are teaching their children that the rules don't apply to them."
Doherty believes this kind of parental behavior is not helpful to children in the long run.
"This is about character development," he says. "These teens are in the midst of developing a moral compass for life. Parents have to think beyond high school to what they want their teen to know about life as an adult."
Doherty recalls a group of football players from his high school who got caught drinking the night before a huge football game against their arch rival. All the players were benched and they lost the game. Everybody knew what had happened and that the players' actions caused them to blow it for the entire school.
"That game happened a long time ago, but I have never forgotten the outcome," says Doherty. "It made a lasting impact on all of us. Instinctively, parents want to protect their children, but you have to consider the long-term consequences if you do this. In today's culture, many parents are inadvertently raising physically strong and ethically flabby young people. Do you want to raise adults who always blame someone else for their behavior? We all make mistakes and have the opportunity to learn from them."
Nobody wants to raise a child to become a self-centered and entitled adult. This means parents sometimes must make tough decisions that can definitely create anxiety about the future, but ultimately will teach your child that nobody is too big to fail, and that they are not an exception to the rule.
Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her as firstname.lastname@example.org.