Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Guest Post: Parental Sinning



Petey is a father of two (for now) and a husband of one (forever). Petey currently lives in San Antonio, Texas, where he attends a pediatric dental residency program. Being an air force dentist, he has been a member of six wards/branches/ groups -- in the west, the east, the deep south, the not as deep south, and the middle east -- since 2008.  Petey is also a former columnist for the country's oldest Japanese-America civil rights publication, The Pacific Citizen.

Image by Lindsey Turner.

In my current pediatric dental residency program I am required to do a significant amount of academic reading. Inside of this body of research literature are many articles focused on parenting, family social structures, and the downstream effect on the child behavior and behavior management. As a result, I find my interest piqued whenever I come across an interesting read regarding parenting. Such was the case this week when I read the following headline on the Huffington Post: How An 'Enlightened' Dad Responded To Finding Porn On His Son's Computer.

Modern America and Modern Mormondom are obsessed with parenting. A casual stroll through any Barnes and Noble or hipster boutique corner bookstore is guaranteed to showcase a bevy of parenting guides authored by self-proclaimed "experts." Some like to contrast the parenting paradigms of the modern parent vs. the classic parent. Where classic parents focus on offspring being good citizens and contributing to society productively as the number one desire for their children while potentially sacrificing nurturing aspects of being a parent; the modern parents "wants their kid to be happy," above all else and protects them from sadness and pain and ultimately deprives their child of proper coping mechanisms. Another paradigm is the “progressive” parent who is cool and hip and is the child’s friend first and parent second.

Mormon parenting falls inside, across, and between each and all of these parenting paradigms. Sometimes we want to be the cool parents too. Other times we are proud at how well-disciplined our kids are. But when it comes to youthful misadventure, most of us mistakenly think that our teenagers will probably feel comfortable to come talk to us when the difficult or tempting time arises. But will they? That is the essence of the Huffington Post article. What's the best way to parent your children through a world full of thorny bushes?

The parent in the HuffPo headline fell into the progressive parent paradigm and his story deserves some consideration. The back-story is simple. A father of a teenage boy discovered his son's computer was bogged down from viruses picked up from pornographic websites when he attempted to fix the laptop. How the father reacted is the true story. He posted a rough draft letter on Reddit to open a discussion in support/criticism of his intentions (eventually a similar version of the letter was left for his son). The letter basically said, "Son, I was young once and I know you are going to look at porn. But if you do, use these safe websites so you don't ruin your $1800 laptop with viruses, because I'm not buying you another one. I won't tell mom, and we don't have to ever talk about it if you don't want to. But I'm here to talk if you do. I've been there, done that," or something to that effect. And that was that.

This post isn't to argue the dangers, societal/family effects, or what have you of pornography. The Mormon consensus is pretty universal when it comes to its rightful anti-pornography position. Rather, the purpose of this post is to consider the merits of the father's response to his son's behavior. Is this progressive parenting style the key to opening an honest two-way dialogue with our children, particularly teenagers? Is admitting you've "been there, done that" the best way to earn your child's trust? Is the stronger man/woman role-model the one who is perceived to have never lost the battle to temptation, or the one who found the pathway back?

I grew up in a Mormon home where I assumed that my parents were basically sinless. If they sinned in their youth, I had no idea, and I would hazard to guess that most Mormon kids are the same way and don't have a clue if their parents did either. That's just the way we are. We are a very private culture in regards to talking about our sins. We don't talk about them to friends, family, children, or basically anyone, unless grave enough to warrant priesthood absolution. Most all of us are comfortable talking about a remission of sins, but that is not the same thing.

Does not talking about sinning mean that it's not happening? Obviously not. It's ironic that the states with the strongest "abstinence only" public education systems tend to have the highest teen pregnancy rates. Utah, anecdotally, and possibly statistically, has a high per capita teen pregnancy rate. Part of that is because what young Aaronic priesthood holder is ever going to buy a condom or what young Mia Maid is going to ask her mom to help her get on birth control? That would be committing the sin before you're even in the position, no pun intended, to commit the sin at the last moment in the heat of things. And while sinning happens, "pre-sinning" almost never does.

So should we have the courage to talk openly to our kids about our wanderings off the straight and narrow? And when does this conversation start, if it starts at all? Does simply acknowledging that adults sin or have sinned in their life lessen adolescent's propensity for misbehavior? Who knows, maybe it would, perhaps it wouldn't. I don't pretend to have all the answers. The guy on Huffington Post seemed pretty self-assured in his. But at the crux of the issue is that as Modern Mormon parents, I think we need to be more adept at not just talking about sin, but talking about sinning as well.

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