QUESTION: Our daughter and her friend were caught shoplifting at a local department store. First the girls were apprehended by a store detective and then the police were called, but no report was taken. My wife was at work, so I went to the store.
This is a first offense for both girls, however they were advised that should this happen again, they both would be sent to juvenile hall. What we don’t understand is that neither of these girls lacks for anything and both have had religious upbringing. Many questions are running through our minds: Have we failed as parents? What should the consequences be? What can we do to be certain this never happens again? Help!
Discouraged Mom & Dad
Don’t be. You’re navigating adolescence as well as anyone else. A recent study of the teenage brain (see “Teenage Brains” by David Dobbs in the “National Geographic” September 2011 issue) notes that “if we smartened up sooner, we’d end up dumber” – the premise being that even in the midst of thrill-seeking behaviors that seem dumb to adults, adolescent brains are developing the skills they need to analyze life’s complexities.
This doesn’t mean you should do nothing, of course. Your response gets hard-wired into your daughter’s brain, too. Good parenting always involves appropriate consequences, which in this case probably involves a lot of awkward conversations with adults: you, the police, and the store manager, who is likely to receive well your daughter’s offer of reparations. If your daughter consistently has difficulty managing her free time, consider limiting (but not eradicating) it as trust is rebuilt. Form an agreement on what needs to happen for the limitation to be lifted and during what time period. Consequences should always be manageable, specific to the event and with a definite endpoint.
Resources you will find helpful include Systemic Training for Effective Parenting books and classes (www.steppublishers.com), Michael Gurian’s, “The Wonder of Girls,” and the parenting classes offered at our YMCA through the CV Alcohol & Drug Prevention Coalition.
Parenting classes are great support groups. They are usually shame-free zones full of loving parents who confess that a few clues would be awfully helpful.
You will be okay.
Dear Disappointed Mom & Dad,
The transition from child to young adult is really tough and very uncertain. Sometimes high achieving and morally conscious children emerge from households with neglectful parents, and other times the best of parents who are diligent in raising their children with proper values and ethics deal with teenagers who run into trouble.
As parents, we do not know what God’s destiny is for our children and we do not control the decision making process of our children as they transition to adulthood. Some of God’s prophets from the Bible and Koran, such as Adam and Jacob, may peace be upon them, had morally corrupt children. None of us are better parents than God’s prophets.
So first, you have not failed as parents. Your faith and your resolve as parents are being tested with this serious but very manageable shoplifting incident involving your daughter. Second, look at this as just one fleeting mishap and do not let this define your daughter’s identity and alter your loving relationship with her. Do not get locked into a downward cycle of negativity, but emerge with a greater resolve to emotionally connect with your daughter with love. You’re the adult, and it’s your responsibility to lead the relationship with your faith in God and with a loving relationship that accounts for the trials and tribulations of adolescence. Allow your faith and prayers to give you the persistence and patience to be the best parent possible.
As for the consequences, give your daughter the opportunity to take responsibility for her action and give her the emotional climate so she can feel remorseful for her wrongdoing. This may take the form of writing a good old fashion letter of apology to the department store manager. The goal of the consequences would be for your daughter to internalize the remorse for her behavior. And this would include the customary taking away of some allowance, grounding for a period of time, or whatever other consequence you deem fit.
Lastly, you will never be certain about the spiritual and ethical behavior of your children. The best you can do as parents is to be a role model with the minimum amount of lecturing. Young adults learn the most by simply observing their parents and emotionally experiencing the loving atmosphere in the home. This is the natural result for a household centered on faith in God- simple concepts but very difficult to put into practice.
QUESTION: We’re a family of aviation adventurers. My husband, our daughter (our only child) and I are all licensed to fly the small plane we own. We fly often and take turns as pilot. I might also mention my husband is retired from the Air Force.
Now our daughter, who just finished college, wants to fly for the Air Force and her father and I are dead-set against her decision given the world situation. Her father flew some harrowing missions and we’re both concerned our daughter would end up with dangerous assignments.
Up until now, we’ve not interfered with our daughter’s plans for her life. How to deal with this is the question.
Dear Perplexed Parents,
I understand your love and concern for your daughter’s well-being and know that you have her best interests at heart. This is where trust comes into play – trust that the good advice and upbringing you have raised your daughter with will also be the wisdom that guides her. I encourage you both to be mindful of what you are focusing on because where we put our attention has a tendency to expand in our experience. Are you focused on your fears for your daughter’s well being or excited for the new adventures and discoveries that she will encounter? When we put our attention on the outcome that we do want rather than the fears we have about it not showing up, we become receptive to alternative solutions that are otherwise obscured.
There is an expression, “Let go and let God,” which means to release the concerns that we have and turn them over to God; to trust in a Power that is greater than we are, the Spirit within that will guide us, direct us and protect us to the best solutions. Our charge is to remain receptive to that guidance.
Hard as it may be, eventually we all must release those we love to their own best judgment and trust that the values, common sense and good reasoning abilities instilled within them will be the very tools that will help them make good decisions as they grow. Know that the guidance of God will be with you as your lives unfold through this experience.
Dear Perplexed Parents,
Congratulations on having such an adventurous daughter! You must be very proud of her! I’m sure you love her very much (be sure to tell her often), but please don’t try to stand in her way. If she can fly and if she is a college graduate, she is an adult now. So she is the captain of her fate (to quote William Ernest Henley) and you are not.
I am sorry if this sounds harsh, but what happened with your two sets of parents when you informed them of your decision to pursue flying? I’m guessing they said that flying is dangerous, but you went ahead because flying is what you wanted to do. Sounds to me as if your daughter wants to follow in her parents’ footsteps.
What I would do is tell her that you love her very much, tell her of your concern for her safety, remind her that she is your only child – but if she says she knows all that, get out of her way and wish her Godspeed. Life is dangerous and uncertain, just like flying. But so, too, is driving down an L.A. freeway. There are no guarantees. Do you want your daughter to live a long, miserable life playing it safe? Or do you want her to live her own life and make her own decisions?
The early 20th Century Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran, a Christian writer, said that your children don’t belong to you; they belong to the universe. They may have come through you, but they don’t belong to you. A thinker named Rollo May said that love is letting go of fear. So love your daughter … and let her go.
The Rev. Skip Lindeman,
La Canada Congregational Church
Minister of the Unitarian Universalist
Church of the Verdugo Hills