He told me about how he had, until recently, held out just a little smidgen of a nugget of hope that the second baby would be a girl. You know, for a matched set.
Of course he’s perfectly happy either way.
And then we did that what-a-relief-we-don’t-have-to-ever-worry-about-parenting-teenage-girls thing parents of boys do, which we do mostly because:
- It’s universally accepted that teenage girls can be the scariest, most dramatic, complicated and least understood creatures ever, and
- We’re trying to console ourselves that we’ll never get to exclaim over tulle or teensy, embroidered flowers on denim hems in the clothing section. Shopping for boy clothing being more about reinforced knees and stuff that won’t show grass stains, than it is about fashion.
I did, however, have to disabuse my friend of the notion that parenting boys is downright easy. That’s like calling Indiana Jones a wussy because he doesn’t like snakes.
So I shared the stuff my kids are into right now: the video games and the learner’s permit and the requests to go to concerts where there’s a whole rave culture with its druggy subtext. Then there’s fact that they’re pulling away from us as they grow and currently at a point where we realize if we haven’t covered something yet, it’s nigh on too late.
That ship has sailed. The hay is in the barn.
The Titanic has been launched. So to speak.
I shared this all with my friend, who is about to have a baby and a toddler with which to contend, because I’d hate to have him think, “once I get past this phase where they’re as likely to smear poop on the walls or choke on a Lego as anything else, then it’s smooth sailing.”
No, Grasshopper, that’s when the fun is just beginning.
I was talking in particular about vetting violent video games, and dealing with the unprecedented access kids have to an astonishing array of media and imagery and messaging that run completely counter to everything we’re trying to teach them.
“How do you do it?” He asked. “Where do you draw the line on what they can access?”
Well, first I have to accept the fact that parental restrictions alone aren’t going to keep them out of all the garbage.
Then there are the rules we make to help us pretend we have some control. Like, when someone around here wants to bring a video game home, even if they buy it themselves, we insist on the final say. Easy, peasy.
First, we do exhaustive research on each and every game, by which I mean we ask Google if there’s anything to be alarmed about. Like whether a game’s been banned by an entire continent, for example.
Then, anything that causes the game store clerk to give the look is immediately put back on the shelf. Seriously, when a twelve year-old with a video game makes an eighteen year-old clerk tuck his chin and raise his eyebrows like a schoolmarm, I pay attention.
Sure, there are rating systems, like movies. So helpful. Or, you know, not, since apparently every other parent ignores those things.
If you don’t want to look like the biggest parenting tool on the planet, you need to be able to point to something besides the rating as reason for not allowing games into your home. Like objectification of women, for example, or excessive gore.
Or alien anal probes.
Oh, I do wish I was kidding.
Aside from those issues, we don’t really have a line. We talk to the boys about what we like to listen to and watch and read, and how we make choices in a world filled with them. We talk to them about the need to be discerning.
What they hear is probably “blah, blah, blah, nopetty nope no, because blah, blah.”
Still, no absolute line. I tell myself it’s not that I’m lazy or inattentive, but because parental absolutes can be counter productive.
When I was little, we had a couple of babysitters from down the street. They didn’t have television, so when they came to our house, they plunked themselves down in front of the set and barely moved until my parents got home.
You take anything completely away from someone, you give whatever that thing is a whole lot more power than it should have. That’s parenting 101, people.
And probably why my dad kept his opinions to himself almost the entire time I was dating.
Today, as parent of my own teenager and soon-to-be teenager, I find this question of where to draw the line a tricky one in the video game arena. Our kids have access to more crap than any kids at any time in history. We don’t really know what impact all this media is going to have on them, long term.
I suspect that if they don’t learn to cope, they won’t be able to figure it out when it really matters.
When they’re trying to hold down a job, or hold up their end of a relationship, or be a competent parent making decisions for their own children, they’re going to have to do it in a world where there are constant and insistent demands for their attention from every direction. They’ll need to manage their propensity to be overwhelmed by choice, or to be sucked in by stupid.
I’d like to think they’re learning, little by little, how to deal. So while we’re trying to screen for content, we also talk about managing our time, and fitting in some healthy activity, music practice, reading, dinner at the table, and good old-fashioned conversation. We haven’t found a perfect balance just yet, but that’s the objective.
The other truth, at least for us, is this: the boys have been really patient while we’re figuring this all out. They’re not yet pushing the envelope in quite the same way I did at their age.
Thank God for small favors.
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Photo by: Eva Blue