As most of you know, I spend an inordinate amount of time reading old newspapers dating from 1875 to 1950 and sometimes a bit beyond. This week I read about a 1920 robbery in Caddo which was perpetrated by some local young men. The editor of the paper was so upset about the crime that he wrote an editorial about the role of parents in controlling the actions of their children. He went so far as to state- “Some parents are at fault or the boys would not be guilty.” He went on to give some advice about teens that sounds simplistic to us now, but the truth of his basic tenets has not changed since Biblical times:
“You, and many others, have no doubt expressed astonishment at the wrong-doing of growing children in their teens; and wonder why it is so, considering what nice people their parents are.
It requires no long essay to explain why this is so, in at least 85 per cent of instances. The other 15 percent may be charged to “unforeseen circumstances or natural waywardness”. In the latter case the old saying “apples don’t roll far from the tree upon which they grew” may apply. So only the 85 per cent class will be discussed:
Most parents are overconfident in the strength of their children to overcome the influence of evil companionship.
When children get into their teens they begin a transition from juvenile innocence into the outer portals of adult life and are given more freedom of action. This is the danger period of life.
They should be carefully guided and watched and taught that the red-light walks of life, though alluring, are dangerous beacons to follow and should be shunned."
I suppose the admonition that caught my attention was the one about “evil companionship”. My mother harped and nagged constantly about “the company you keep” and “choose your friends carefully” and “don’t fall in with the wrong crowd”. What never occurred to her, or to me, was that “evil companions” weren’t some group that was separate from us. They weren’t labeled or identified so that we could avoid them. They were classmates and neighbors and friends, and yes, even relatives, who slowly but surely headed down a different path in life. By the time most of them could be called evil or dangerous or “delinquent” we already knew and liked them! I think that’s why so many of the interviews you see after a horrible crime begin with “he seemed like such a nice boy…”
We also have to ask ourselves how “evil companions” end up that way, especially if they have spent so much time hanging out with US. Why isn’t our influence more powerful than theirs? My childhood memories include some people that my parents felt comfortable being friends with, yet their children went on to lead lives of crime. And I remember a couple of children who fooled my mother for a while. She thought they were “sweet girls” when I knew for a fact that they were not. Of course now we have the knowledge that genetics play a huge role in who and what we become and that some of our parenting plans are doomed from the very beginning.
It all becomes more complicated than I can ponder, and as the grandmother of teens I ponder a LOT. So while respecting the advice of our worthy editor I would offer my own: trust God and pray a lot. Try to be wise and careful and watchful. But understand that there are some things that are just beyond your control. At some point your child’s life becomes their own, and you move from being the director of the play to being a member of the audience.