It’s been quite the month at the house I share with my two sons, 20 and 17. Lying, stonewalling, sexting, violence, unprotected sex – you name it, and we’ve lived through it.
Oh, I don’t mean that my kids were doing that – that is what’s been on the news as we followed former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘s announcement of a love child with his long-time housekeeper, the revelations that former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn allegedly sexually assaulted a hotel maid, and that former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner had been engaging in social media hanky-panky with a bunch of young hotties on Facebook and Twitter but not without lying about it first for 10 days before resigning.
It sure makes the antics of my boys – on the verge of adulthood and all that comes with that – look relatively innocent.
These are tough times to be raising kids, often because parents – or in Weiner’s case, parent-to-be – are behaving so badly. And we’re teaching kids, by example if not necessarily words, that it’s OK to be less than honest and honorable.
The statistics are scary. Teenagers are five times more likely than those over 50 to believe it is necessary to lie and cheat in order to get ahead, according to the Josephson Institute of Ethics, which polls high school students from across the country about their values, attitudes, and behavior every two years for its Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth. They cheat at school, steal from friends and lie to their parents.
Well, OK, they’re teenagers and if we adults can remember our own teen years we know that we were guilty of some of that – and probably more than that – when we were their age; I sure was. Didn’t someone of our generation chalk up those bad decisions to “youthful indiscretions”? Still, I just don’t recall that my parents behaved as immaturely as we teens did – or worse. Maybe that’s because the press was kinder to high-profile men who cheated back then and the spouse-swapping parties happened after the kiddies were asleep.
Lately, we have had a spate of high-profile adults who have shown kids – ours and their own – how to misbehave. But all along there have been many not-so-high-profile parents behaving as if they were the ones who needed curfews and time-outs – the newly divorced.
“In a way, divorce is a form of rebellion. A rebellion against an entrenched cultural norm,” writes freelancer Beth Jones in an article for the Huffington Post titled “Regression, or How Divorce Turned Me into a (Giddy) Drinking, Smoking, Post-Adolescent. “Whether or not you’re the one who initiated the divorce, ‘Til death do us part,’ becomes a lie. So why not continue to rebel, at least temporarily?”
Jones was – thankfully – childless when she divorced and entered a period of excessive partying, smoking and one-night stands, but many newly divorced are not. The desire to find love again can lead to some bad decisions, like shacking up with your mistress or too many new lovers introduced to the kids too soon. The newfound freedom divorce offers can be like a sort of gateway drug for the parent to reclaim his or her life – often at the expense of his or her children. And, as my friend who’s a high school counselor says, that’s exactly when the kids start acting out, boozing and getting depressed.
But what teen looks to his or her parent for guidance, anyway? Perhaps more than we think; a new Canadian study indicates 45 percent of teens consider their parents to be their role models when it comes to sexuality. Just 32 percent look to their peers and 15 percent said celebrities influenced them; after all, teens have been sexting way before Weinergate.
At some point kids figure out that we parents aren’t nearly as smart and together as they thought we were. That’s a given. But I don’t think we have to basically hand it to them by being liars and cheats.