Tuesday, September 19, 2006

What to teach children

Being a father, and simultaneously being clueless, I sometimes get a little disturbed about how I'm going to raise my kids to be the happy, healthy, smart, perfect little citizens I want them to be. I've found in many other areas in life that setting one's expectations low makes for delighted feelings of exceeding expectations later. So, that's a start. I'm fully expecting them to hate my guts, fail at all their social and academic endeavors, and be recalcitrant menaces. There. All set.

But I will feel responsible if I haven't done my darnedest to help them learn and grow. I know I'm the one who has to take the responsibility for teaching them about life. FoxyJ mentioned in a comment a while back that, "a lot of your attitudes and thoughts are going to come from a family setting" and that sounds perfectly true. So, what will I teach my kids about being gay? What will I teach them about using alcohol and tobacco? Caffeine? Pierced ears and tattoos?

In that same post, Samantha relayed a discussion with her laurel class about "the choice" of being gay. Apparently, in a discussion on "Personal Purity through Self-Discipline," one of the laurels said she hated it when kids at school said they were gay and acted in a certain way just to get attention. Samantha put to rest any speculation about what is and is not a choice about being gay and was waiting for fallout with parents. I don't know that any fallout ever came, but I can easily imagine the situation being that a teacher had given my children a biased and unfriendly view of gays without my knowledge. I would have no way of knowing the discussion took place unless I proactively taught such topics to my family myself. Three cheers for FHE.

But what will I teach?

I'm not sure I would have dealt as well with the situation in Samantha's laurel class as well as she did. My teenage niece one day made a comment similar to that laurel, and the ensuing discussion left me feeling confused. She had complained that she felt the gay kids at school who were out and proud of their sexuality and getting scholarships based on their sexual orientation and activism, were loudly obnoxious and belittling to her for her religious views. When children are recognized for a sexual orientation they didn't choose, rewarded for their activism on a moral topic we disagree with, I can understand feeling adversarial and victimized when they turn around and seem loudly intolerant back. And, dear niece, your sexual orientation, being straight and all, is nothing special.

I grew up knowing that smoking was evil. Tobacco was a filthy weed and alcohol was a pernicious nectar. And such a moral background served me well. I've never in my life had alcohol, tobacco, coffee or tea, and I'm doubtless better off for it. But, I also grew up thinking that those who did smoke were bad people. And that's regrettable.

How do I teach a sensitive morality sophisticated enough to distinguish between appropriate actions for us and appropriate actions for others? I'm not sure it can be done.

How will I teach the distinction between inclinations, feelings, and actions, when I'm not completely comfortable with the topic myself?


Chris (hurricane) said...

How will I teach the distinction between inclinations, feelings, and actions, when I'm not completely comfortable with the topic myself?

Honestly, which would include being open about your discomfort.

Samantha said...

How will I teach the distinction between inclinations, feelings, and actions, when I'm not completely comfortable with the topic myself?

-L-, my friend, GET comfortable. Talk about it. Talk about it some more. Then keep talking. I'm posting about this today, along with other posts. Come see me if you're interested.

Foxx said...

I've been wondering about this a lot, since I've been brunted lately with the worry my siblings have that my actions will affect their sons and daughters somehow negatively.

I would teach them how to make their own moral choices. In many instances where people are taught that a certain behavior is evil, it follows that the person doing the evil should be considered evil also.

Help them understand that each person should be considered on a case-by-case basis, and that broad generalizations often cause more hurt than comfort.

Teach them how to look at things from alternate perspectives. Help them to see why some people might make choices different and opposed to their system of beliefs, and how to respect them as people beyond the morality of their choices, for morality is different for different people. Some of the reasons may be valid while others are not; teach them enough objectivity that they can see why, even if they don't subscribe to the same logic.

Scot said...

You sure know how to make a guy feel that impossible-to-fix feeling.

It breaks my heart to think of the conflicts that could come if our children were in school together. We’ve been very fortunate to not have a single issue, yet, after a year

My goal is to teach ours to keep civil and from throwing the first punch. I’d not ask them to respect an attack on their family, if it comes, anymore than I’d ask them to respect the punch of a bully.

But, if you teach them what your faith does about their family, there will inevitably be that first punch, from your side, right? And then it’s a fight, and I hope you can easily see this isn’t near tobacco or tea. Then I must tell them why their peer is wrong, and give a figurative hit back. Then we have to follow that with disclaimers; that there are positions in the church that include our family, such as the one taken by their grandparents. I don’t look forward to it…

Regarding gay teens, if LDS teens want to take such a position on their peers, consequences should be anticipated, as gay kids feel more able to speak up. Not that I’d defend the all activities of the young gay activists. I know many gay teens are far too into being gay; they can more than “seem loudly intolerant”. I’ve been there. But I hope it’s clear how difficult it is to give respect for disrespect.

Anonymous said...

I admit to being "clueless" as a parent. Thankfully I don't have to do it alone.

J and I talk about how we want to teach the values - including the ones she's uncomfortable with.

We teach both what we believe and what is held in common belief that may be different from our own. I am sure that sometimes it's a bit much. But I have found, especially with my son, that he likes to undestand the "why" of what we do.

I hope it works. I pray that it will work. But I have to wait for that day when each will face the choice for themselves. What will be thier choice?

That's what scares me.

Loyalist (with defects)

-L- said...

Scot, as you've noticed, I have no problem with freely and respectfully associating with all sorts of gays, and liberally respecting the way they live their lives according to their own consciences. I don't plan on teaching my kids to thumb up their noses or "throw any punches" at gays. But I also don't know how to teach a small child more than that something is either right or wrong. There's no thousands of shades of blogged gray in the mind of a child. I'm genuinely looking for advice that is workable given my faith and my sometimes conflicting moral views of sexuality and tolerance.

I'm intimately familiar with the difficulty and sometimes merit of giving respect for disrespect, and I think my niece is too.

Thanks for all the comments.

Scot said...

Hey, I’m looking for the same workable solution. :-)

I don’t doubt your willingness to associate; you could probably civilly associate with thieves too ;-). My point is (at least my worry is) that the conflict is inevitable. In some way, aren’t you required to cast a poor light on my family in your teachings? Aren’t you going to have to answer your children’s questions about their friend’s home according to your faith? That seems it would inevitably play out as a “first punch”; considering how young kids are. You may use the disclaimers, just as I will, but you will simply have to admit you think it’s wrong, and the family ultimately shouldn’t be when you’re pressed (and you will be pressed). Then folks like me must counter. Am I wrong? What’s the way out?

I don’t know either. I thankfully will not be in the position you are, having no moral problem with your family or any of your choices until they harm us, and then I’m more in the same boat. But I still don’t exactly know what to do. I guess I’m just expressing a worry.

Eh, as I’ve said, we’ve really had zero problems with peers and other families, quite the opposite, and maybe I’m bracing for a fist that will never land.

santorio said...

my children, both in their 20's, have distinct personalities which were not taught. my jaundiced view of parenting is that it is not so much a matter of teaching specific principles or attitudes, but rather of providing an environment in which they had choices and experienced firsthand the consequences of these actions. i want them to come up with their own conflicts to solve, rather than to leave them the legacy of my own unsolved conflicts.

Kalvin said...

if wine is such a pernicious nectar why did jesus drink it? Why did so many early church members smoke? You might find the work of Kenji Yoshino really interesting in re covering and how that relates to women/race/sexuality because there isn't always a line between the things where you are drawing them.

-L- said...

First of all, I said "pernicious nectar" in kind of a silly way. I think it's amusing. "Filthy weed" too. Inside joke with myself, I guess.

Second of all, lots of good folks drink alcohol (including Jesus and many prophets), and that's supposed to be one of the points here.

Third of all, alcohol is never a good idea. Well, scratch that, maybe as an antiseptic, but ingestion is never a good idea. Well, maybe in the case of methanol poisoning, but never ethanol. Okay, fine, there are selected times when medicinal or ritualistic uses of alcohol is acceptable. And I'm not including jello shots from a test tube held in some woman's cleavage as a qualifying ritualistic use. We could argue about this one all day, but I have enough science to argue about without pulling the alcohol, tobacco or drugs hotbutton into it. Just rest assured, I'm right.

If you want to discuss the other lines I'm drawing wrong, I'm all ears.