August 27, 2019

Innovation spawns new temptations

            She sat down with a sigh. Her weary voice could have come from millions of mamas and daddies. Parenting can be an exhilarating adventure, but it is not without frightening challenges.

Those tribulations are what put the sag in her voice. The dark circles under her eyes underscored distress.
            Wasn’t it just yesterday that her daughter was a bubbly little girl and her best buddy? They rode bikes. They went to the zoo. And when they watched movies on the couch, they leaned into each other. But that was yesterday.
            Somewhere along the way in middle school, the brand-new teenager started leaning in a different direction. She made new friends, who influenced her attitudes and behavior. The once-bright student showed new signs of laziness. Arguments supplanted laughter from the old days.

            Parenting isn’t easy. Neither is being a teenager—never has been and never will be. But today is different. Just as the world has progressed, so has the plethora of challenges: cell phones, social media and vaping, just to name a few.
            Looking down at her clasped hands, she said, “This is our only child, and we made a mistake. We should never have let her have a cell phone so early. Social media consumed her. Our lives were pure torment, until we came to an understanding on phone rules and screen time. That meant, as parents, we had to set a better example by putting down our phones, too, and having more conversations with our teenager.”
            The victory was short-lived.
            During the summer before high school, another confrontation erupted. And just as every generation has succumbed to temptations, this new allure, vaping, had grabbed her. E-cigarettes are easier to hide than a pack of Marlboros. Their daughter had tried vaping for the first time as a 12-year-old. And, yes, the kind with marijuana, also called dabbing. This discovery was made when the 14-year-old balked at a drug test and then told the truth.
            Do you remember the advertising slogan: “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile”? The catchy phrase didn’t save Oldsmobile, and neither did “Just Say No” halt people from trying drugs. Parenting is more complicated than that, especially in 2019.
            I don’t have the answers. But with eight grandchildren, I listened very carefully to the woman sitting in the chair, pouring out her anguish. Despite how good the parenting is, no family is immune from heartbreak caused by their children’s poor choices. Peer pressure is one of the most powerful forces on the planet. We will never change that.
            Again, I don’t have the answers. What I do have is grave concern about where we find ourselves today. Near the top of the list is social media that breeds low self-esteem, cyberbullying and sexting. Thanks to the internet, the average age for introduction to pornography is 9 years old. Add addiction to cell phones, other mobile devices and video games. All of this is making face-to-face communication go the way of the dodo bird. And then there’s vaping, which made it easier for the 12-year-old to get her first taste of weed.
            After she gave up menthol Kools, I asked, “Mother, why did you ever start smoking?” With a dramatic wave of her hand—while she blew imaginary smoke toward the ceiling—she said, “The movie stars made it so glamorous.”
            Modern-day technology didn’t invent temptation.
            But technological genius has spawned so many new temptations that I have empathy for modern-day parents and guardians. When my friend left, I sank down in my chair feeling the circles under my eyes grow darker.