Doing the right thing

“OLDS 1999 Intrigue. Totally uncool parents who obviously don’t love teenage son, selling his car. Only driven for three weeks before snoopy mom who needs to get a life found booze under front seat. $3,700/offer. Call meanest mom on the planet.”

Jane Hambleton wasn’t messing around when she found the booze in her son’s car. “All of which proved one thing,” the Washington Post said today, “America needed this. Oh boy, did we need this kind of tough love, the kind that says, ‘I am not your friend. I am your mother. Eat your peas. Now.'”

So how did one parent in a country of about 80 million of them get on Oprah, or Good Morning America, or the Ellen Degeneres Show? She disciplined her kid. Perhaps that should tell us something.

The question of the right thing to do when it comes to parenting teens is rarely simple, however.

In the wake of the punishment handed out to 13 Eden Prairie High School students, whose party pictures appeared on Facebook, some parents found out what it’s like to be stuck in a difficult position.

There was no proof alcohol was involved. There was no proof it wasn’t. If it was your kid, do you side with the school, even if your son or daughter is claiming innocence? Or do you call the lawyer?

What’s the right thing to do? Trust your kid, or trust the school?

I called Colleen Gengler in Worthington, a family relations specialist with the University of Minnesota regional extension service there.

“You back the school,” she said. “But you just don’t flat out say, ‘nope, I don’t believe you.'”

Even if there’s no definitive proof of wrongdoing by your child?

“I would tell them, ‘this is a consequence of putting the pictures online. There may or may not have been alcohol involved, but it’s not whether I know for sure; it’s how it appears and your responsibility for how it appears.'”

Ms. Gengler says the incident should spawn conversations between parents and their children about the social networking sites. “We would suggest they (parents) monitor it or ask their teen to allow them to take a look at their Facebook page, and determine whether it’s appropriate. You want to get the teen to be responsible.”

And on that topic — responsibility — listen to a special segment of All Things Considered tonight at 5:30 on young people and excessive drinking. During the half hour, host Tom Crann will talk with Nanci Oleson on how parents can communicate with their teens. Nanci covers family issues for Minnesota Public Radio and is author of the blog, How’s the Family?

  • Sandra

    It’s not as if the kids were suspended from classes…it was EXTRA-curricular activities from which they were excluded, and for a very short period of time. Hello? Why is this even a controversy?

    My 17 year old exchange student was failing a class because she stopped doing the homework. This was an automatic suspension from softball practice for 2 weeks according to the school’s policy, which I personally felt was too lenient, so I suspended her from playing or attending games as well until she brought her grade up to passing status. It didn’t take long.

    I don’t see any difference in the alcohol issue. I agree with the comment in the article that whether or not my child was personally involved in drinking, (and I’m sure there were a lot of kids abstaining? Sorry, I used to BE a teenager, so, smell the coffee, eh?), she would learn that whether or not you have done something wrong, if you use bad judgment by hanging out with a party crowd, and then are surprised when someone with extremely bad judgment posts those photos, even if it wasn’t you drinking or posting, there are natural consequences to one’s actions.

    I would thank the school for enforcing its policies, and spend time with my daughter having this very discussion, which would include my 13 year old daughter as well. (I do not yell, belittle, or threaten, by the way. I want her to HEAR me.)Then she’d have the privilege to engage in yet another discussion with her father about the consequences of her actions: alcohol in particular, and bad judgment/life lessons in general.

    Better to learn these lessons while the consequences are small and the cost is a little hurt pride or a few missed games or a sense of “I didn’t do that and it’s not fair”, than have to learn by losing a job, a license, or possibly a life.

  • Linda Reed

    These parents should have started earlier in their parenting with consequences for their behavior. My hubby and I started very early with teaching right from wrong. Even a 2 year old needs a swat on the behind when he misbehaves. Our kids attended Christian Schools where the values are taught along with the spelling lessons–and where teachers can actually discipline when they need to. When we got a call from the school about any misdeed, it was followed up with a serious spanking at home to back up what the teacher said.

  • andrew rosenberg

    i was the 18 yr. kid who in 1982 lost a car to dui… i haven’t driven drunk since and it’s not cause of the penalties or the embaressment or what my parents said or did… i learned my lesson and changed my own life to mirror the morals i was brought up under, and still believe in.. 2 points here; 1)don’t confuse tough love w/ corporal punishment, everything i read(and know from personal experience) connects spanking with greater violence. or 2)morals w/ religion… enuf said, thanks for the chance to speak

  • Candi

    For some reason, many kids honestly believe that what they post is private. I found some photos of a niece, scantily dressed on one of her friend’s pages and immediately called her mother. The words “that was private!” actually came out of my niece’s mouth. Later, I explained how easy it would have been for a sex offender to find her, since her site has close up pictures of her face, her full name and the exact campus of high school she went to. An industrial pervert could even know which window was her bedroom. That scared her.

    I agree with the idea of making sure kids know they are responsible for their actions, even for things as simple as putting a photograph up on their site. The EP kids were ignorant enough to post pictures of themselves partying (or not partying – just looking as though they were – as some would argue). The school has consequences for partying. Period. I saw an article the other day about colleges that use the social networking sites when determining whether or not to accept applicants. There’s a lot more at stake than missing out on a few weeks of extra-curricular activities when deciding what to post.

  • Sandra

    Thanks for the thoughtful posts, particularly Andrew’s candid observations.

    However, I must take issue with the practice of physical punishment. I am personally opposed to any form, regardless of how “minor” it might seem or how “justified” it might appear. I realize that some parents think it is a good child rearing tool, but if spanking is such a necessary / effective tool, how is it that there are so many well-behaved children and productive, well-adjusted adults who were raised without so much as a slapped hand?

    I don’t remember where I read it, but I recall the story of the two kids playing in the sandbox, one smaller and one a little bigger and older. The little one takes the bigger one’s toy, and the bigger one hits the little one, then recovers the toy.

    Responding to her big kid’s smacking the little one, the Mom grabs him, smacks him across the face, and says to him, “Maybe *that* will teach you not to hit people smaller than you.”


    Or, maybe it is where he learned to act that way in the first place, based on his Mother’s example.

    As for the “…Christian Schools where the values are taught along with the spelling lessons–and where teachers can actually discipline when they need to. When we got a call from the school about any misdeed, it was followed up with a serious spanking at home to back up what the teacher said.”, I disagree.

    My daughter attended a Catholic school for grades one through five. No one in that loving school would dream of, much less condone, slapping, hitting, spanking, or otherwise assaulting a child! Even name-calling and unkind remarks among the children were unacceptable behavior, since the staff understood that damage to a young child (or anyone) comes in many forms: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.

    Instead, the staff and clergy taught tolerance, kindness, respect for self and others, and non-violence and to love one’s neighbors (ALL of them: Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Christians, even *gasp* atheists and agnostics) right along with the spelling lessons. I am pretty sure that Catholics are considered Christians, too. I’m also pretty certain that Christ taught non-violence, as did Martin Luther King and Gandhi, Muhammad, Buddha…

    Personally, I do not align myself with any particular religion, but am deeply, profoundly spiritual. I believe that the faith traditions of the world are like the side of a pyramid: although each side is unique, all sides lead to the same peak.

    So, please, if you insist on spanking your children, don’t claim it to be in any way linked to being a Christian, knowing right from wrong, or having “values”. You may have your own “values”, but they are most definitely not ubiquitous, nor are they specifically Christian. You may not co-opt nor claim to possess the essence of being a Christian from the rest of those who consider themselves to be.