Looking the future in the face every day was an incredible experience. Seeing in the eyes of teens the hunger for meaning, accomplishment and yearning for overcoming family struggles drew me to teenagers like a magnet.
I learned quickly that wallowing with them in their need was not the answer. Subject matter — academic content — was the answer. Pitching their minds toward their future via solid school subjects was the answer. Giving them a taste of classical music, as opposed to giving them what they already had (rock), was the answer. Pointing them to other worlds and possibilities was the answer.
Trace Adkins, the country music star and spokesman for the Wounded Warrior Project, recorded a song that constantly reminds me of the joys of teaching and parenting. The song should touch the heart of every parent.
It is titled “You’re Gonna Miss This.” In the song’s narrative, a young bride is trying to make a humble apartment livable, wishing she and her husband had something a little nicer. When her dad drops by to help, he urges her not to fret too much because one day, “You’re gonna miss this.”
Further on in the song, and a few years later, a plumber is at the young couple’s newer residence. When their child edges in close to watch the plumber work, the young mother apologetically pulls him away. Unbothered, the plumber tells the young mother not to mind because one day, “You’re gonna miss this,” meaning the years when her children were annoyingly inquisitive.
The song, of course, is about the swift passage of time and how we worry about things which we will one day look back upon as pleasant and memorable.
Life being so fragile and fleeting, it seems to me we should all the more try to interpret the events of life with an eye toward the future. How important will this or that crisis be five years from now? What’s more important, what our children think about us and our rules when they are 15 or when they are 25?
There are many reasons why parents could be pessimistic about the future and the paths their children take.
One is the current culture. Today a home has to be incredibly strong to withstand the influences brought to bear on children when they leave home for school, the mall, a friend’s house or even when they retire to their own bedroom that contains a television or a computer.
Today, adults on television use language few parents would want their children to use. Through television programming, moral poison seeps into our homes.
Even when parents set and exemplify standards for their children, the culture at large — the world of entertainment, peers — often undermines them.
Consider the impact of the common expression “designated driver.” The very expression is a cop-out, a surrender. It says to our teens, “If you drink …” or “When you drink…” be sure someone else drives.
The same is true of the deceptive phrase, “safe sex.” The message in this moral white flag is “If you have sex …” or “Since you will probably have sex anyway …” use contraceptives.
If you drink? If you have sex? What a flight from parental confidence, from moral authority, from trust in what you have taught your children to do and not do!
Not for a moment, however, can I consider the plight of today’s parents hopeless, even though I have seen countless teens snatched from good parents by the culture. Hope is justified, though, only if we stop misjudging and underestimating youth. We misjudge youth when we believe they are victims of their hormones or that their musical tastes cannot be cultivated. Believing we should be their buddies, we relinquish the role of parenthood, which is to point and guide.
How we underestimate what our children are capable of! Allowing them to make up their own minds about morality or ethics isn’t leadership. It’s capitulation.
I would encourage every reader to Google and listen to the Trace Adkins song. It speaks of positive recall, but if parents let the culture raise their kids, their recall will not be pleasant.
Incidentally, the plumber in the song also says to the young mother, “I’ve got two kids of my own; one’s 26, the other’s 33.” A wise plumber!
Roger Hines is a retired high school English teacher in Kennesaw.