It’s high time to rewrite the song from Bye Bye Birdie: “What’s the Matter with Kids Today?” Let’s call it “What’s the Matter with Parents Today?” and compose lyrics that reflect the growing trend of parental abdication, ostrich tendencies and just plain spinelessness.
I was thumbing through a parenting magazine recently and read a letter addressed to the columnist who fields questions from parents of teens. This mom wrote that her 15-year-old daughter had been invited to the senior prom and that after the prom for an all-night party. The mom, “didn’t know if it was a good idea, but didn’t want to tell [her] daughter no and appear old fashioned.” The columnist’s mushy advice made me want to write a stanza asking what’s the matter with advice columnists today.
Let’s see now…the mother didn’t know if it was a good idea to let her 15-year-old daughter spend the wee hours of the morning with a dozen 17 and 18 year olds, alcohol etc., and all that might entail? The mom was more concerned with her own image than with her daughter contracting an STD, a pregnancy or at the very least a really horrible hangover. Maybe all the kids planned on doing was talk about how much they will miss each other over the summer and about how hard exams were and how excited they are for summer to begin. Anyone want to lay bets? I’d rather my 15-year-old daughter tell me I’m old fashioned than I’m about to be a grandma.
What’s wrong with old fashioned? Judaism is old fashioned from the gitgo and as my kids are in the throes of their teen years I take comfort not just in the steadfastness of Jewish values but in how relevant and reality based they are. Judaism doesn’t say physical intimacy is a sinful necessity for procreation. Judaism says such intimate relationships can be holy or unholy. Holy is within the context of marriage or at the very least as a component of a loving adult relationship. Unholy is one night stands, a series of casual partners, and saying “yes” because you’re too uncomfortable to say “no”.
AIDS researchers report that during sexual contact one not only comes into contact with the current partner’s bodily fluids but with those of everyone he or she has already slept with. Eons before HIV hit the scene, rabbinic thought gave us the metaphysical understanding that when we are intimate with another we relinquish a piece of our soul and absorb a piece of our partner’s. Whose soul, and how many, do we really want swirling around within?
Judaism’s take on alcohol is equally reasoned. Alcohol is not forbidden outright. It has a place within the context of Jewish life. Wine is a symbol of gladness. Its purpose is to enable us to sanctify a moment in time. Only on Purim are we allowed to become so inebriated that we cannot distinguish between Haman and Mordechai. Torah gives examples of what drunkenness can lead to — Lot’s daughters got him drunk and then seduced him. God told Aaron, the High Priest, “Drink no wine or other intoxicants, you or your sons with you, when you enter the Tent of Meeting that you may die — it is a law for all time throughout the ages.” An idea fashioned in olden days — that there is a time and place for alcohol; that when you are about to do something holy or needing your full attention, don’t have your wits dulled by alcohol. God’s dictum to Aaron is akin to today’s “don’t drink and drive” warnings. Are Jews immune from alcoholism? No way. Does Judaism have a religious standard vis a vis alcohol? Absolutely. No pun intended. As parents we should consider fortifying ourselves with our tradition’s approach to alcohol and sex.
I don’t know what’s hot in your neighborhood, but here in Michigan the trend in high school senior trips is a week-long jaunt down to Cancun. The Detroit Free Press ran a series of articles about the goings on down there. Debauched doesn’t begin to describe it. Here is a list of the week’s activities: drinking, sex, drinking, vomiting, drinking, swimming, drinking, sex, vomiting, passing out, drinking, dancing, drinking, drinking. The parents interviewed in the paper said that they couldn’t tell their kids no. They said their children were “off to college in a few months, anyway”. “What are you gonna do?” asked another. “They’re nearly adults.” Care to join me in a refrain from “What’s the matter with parents today?”
Am I the only one who anticipates telling my kids “no” to Cancun? Am I the only one who sees the difference between the expectations of the college environment and Cancun? Partying is a part and parcel of college life. Students have to decide how much and how often, if at all. Indulge at the expense of your studies and you’re out. Indulge too much in Cancun and you win a T-shirt and souvenir beer mug. Why should it be so hard to tell our kids that these places are unwholesome? What’s the problem with laying it out that even good kids, reasonable kids whose heads and values are on straight, can end up in unforeseen trouble simply by being in these vacation places where so little is valued?
A mom once said to me, “Debra, what planet are you from?” when I told her my 8th grader wasn’t smoking pot with his friends. Four years later this parent split the cost of Cancun as her daughter’s graduation present. She shared this and more at a dinner party. I gained three pounds that night eating desserts enough to keep my mouth busy.
I’m from planet realistic. My kids will likely do some risky things I may not know about for years, if ever. I’m from planet consequences-will-be-delivered-when-standards-are-ignored. Ultimately, I’m from planet Judaism, where old fashioned is not a pejorative but the road map for parenting with courage and strength. Now tell me, what’s the matter with that?
© Debra Darvick 2001. Reprinted with permission of the author. Make Mine Old fashioned originally appeared on the Jewish Family and Life website, JFLmedia.com. Debra Darvick’s most recent work is This Jewish Life: Stories of Discovery, Connection and Joy. The book may be ordered from www.debradarvick.com or by calling the publisher at 800.880.8642
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.