You may not be raising a future Supreme Court Justice, but there is much for parents to teach their children from what we are now seeing unfold in our nation’s capital. Until 1984, the drinking age in Washington, D.C. was 18, meaning that many high schools students who were enrolled in exclusive private schools in the area spent their weekends attending alcohol-fueled parties. Sexual encounters, consensual or non-consensual, happened. Many of those encounters left lasting scars. And now one has risen to national attention, thrusting into the public spotlight a professor who has come forth to detail an alleged assault by a then teenager who has now been nominated to take a seat on the highest court in our land.
Putting aside the facts of the case and how this will finally play out, parents should be paying attention. These events happened before the advent of the Internet and yet what these young people did back then is now coming back to seriously impact their futures. Social media has upped the stakes. We all hope that our children will absorb all those values that we teach them with our example and our unending conversations at the dinner table, in the car, and at bedtime. But one post, one selfie, one text may come back to undo all that due diligence.
Teenagers live in the here and now. It’s hard for a young person to think beyond the upcoming weekend, to a time when he or she may be applying to college, for that first job, or even running for office. The excuse that “young people do dumb things,” no longer is an acceptable excuse. Young people grow into adults and shedding that baggage becomes difficult, if not impossible, in the 24/7 news cycle.
For parents, it’s a balancing act, how to monitor a young person’s social media accounts without turning into a spy. And let’s face it, there are so many places young people gather online these days that it’s impossible to find enough time to monitor every single post. So what to do?
Talk. And talk a lot. Watch together what is now enfolding in the news. Share your thoughts and ask your child for his or her opinion. Role play. Examine the risks and benefits. Is an evening spent pushing the limits worth perhaps putting a future career in jeopardy? If you must, talk about your past indiscretions and how you would do things differently today if given the chance. Look for positive roles models. There are plenty out there, some who have always been straight shooters, others who have made mistakes and turned their lives around.
Empower our daughters to understand that being sexually assaulted is not their fault and needs to be reported. Teach our sons that they need to protect themselves, too, from sexual assaults. They also need to respect women and that “no means no.” Both our daughters and sons need to know that alcohol and drug use often exacerbate situations, particularly ones where sex is involved.
For the moment, forget politics. Focus on parenting and your children. Their future will make the difference, for them and for our country.
Charlene Giannetti is the co-author with Margaret Sagarese of several books for parents of young adolescents, including The Roller-Coaster Years, Parenting 911, and Cliques.