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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Trust But Verify


Story updated 3/21/2009:

As you all may know, I have a teenage daughter.  She is 15 years old.  She is also my 3rd daughter - in other words, I've been through this stage before with my other daughters, and it isn't easy.  The occasional sarcasm, stinky looks, crossed arms, sassing back, sneaky behavior, little white lies, and rolling of the eyes.  For the most part, Sarah has been a good girl and a good student - until this semester.  Her grades have been suffering a bit and so has her attitude.  We had a situation this past week that required our immediate attention and we took care of it.  We nipped it in the bud before it got entirely out of control.


Most teenagers think they are pulling one over on us, but they aren't.  As for Sarah, we can follow every move she makes on her computer.  Our problem is that we haven't been following through with the spy tactics and we had some issues that needed to be addressed.  Like boys.  Actually, one boy.  We discovered a chat between Sarah and this boy from school and it was serious.  Not only did he solicit her for sex, but he threatened to hurt her if she didn't do as he says.  It was the most pathetic thing I had ever read and it alerted me to the potential of Sarah getting hurt.  We printed it off. 


Then we went searching around her computer for other such chats, letters, documents, anything that might give us a clue as to what more might be going on, and we found a few things.  Last week we had a meeting with one of her teachers, and the Principal and her school counselor to discuss her grades this semester and the threats.  First, though, we called the school and informed them of the threats and asked them to contact the boy's parents. The school met with the boy's parents and they now have copies of the conversations and we were told that they were just as disturbed by it as we were.  They were also given our phone number (at our request), but we thought it was interesting that they have not contacted us to discuss this situation.  I mean, if it were my son, I would call the girl's parents promptly and at least have an adult discussion about our children.  But, that's just me, I suppose they don't think like that.


What hurts me the most is that we have trusted Sarah to be forthright with us, and for the most part she has.  Until recently, she has not given us any reason "not" to trust her.  Actually, she really hasn't given us any reason "not" to trust her, she just didn't open up about this situation as promptly as we would have liked her to.  We did catch this early - within 48 hours of the conversations, but we just wish she had shared it with us right away.  So, I suppose it goes without saying that even if you believe you can trust your teenage children, it is probably a good idea to verify that trust - regularly.  "Trust but verify" is what my father used to always say to me.  "I will trust you, but I will also verify that you can continue to be trusted if I feel you are slipping."  Nothing ever got past my dad.  I thank God for that.  Fortunately, although we will be doing more verifying to protect her, Sarah really has been open with us about most everything else going on in her life. 

As for the chats we found and the issue with the boy, she explained to us that she saved them on her computer because she was going to try to handle the problem on her own.  She later told us she was grateful that we found the conversations and that we took care of it.  It was a big weight off her shoulders and she feels safer now.  

I, personally, can tell that she is doing better now that we have addressed this problem with the boy.  This has been bothering her for a while now and I believe was responsible for her slip in grades.  Why do I feel this way?  Because in the days following the meeting with the school, she has taken several quizzes and has received 100% on all of them and is now entered in the school talent show - something that she initially insisted she did not want to take part in.  She seems a lot happier and is more cheerful.  And, she is coming home from school and getting right on her studies.  

We, as parents need to pay close attention to our children - like radar, we need to be in tune to their changes in behavior, grades, friends, the way they dress, speak, sleeping habits, and more.  We need to communicate with them and be open and honest with them if we expect them to be open and honest with us.  Most importantly, we need to respect our children.  Respect begets respect. 


I honestly believe that it is harder on the parents than the child in situations like this.  Whenever we discipline our children we put everything on lock down - computers, cell phones, iPods, Television - Over.  Done.  No more.  Not until there is resolution, communication, and an understanding of where they slipped up. I believe Sarah's grades are back on track - to the A's and B's, and her focus is back on her academics and not the boys and the girlfriends and the popularity contest at school.  School should not be about popularity and socializing, although I know that it is a given and a big part of the high school experience, we want Sarah to keep her eye on the ball - her education and her future goals and dreams. 

Bob and I have even thought about taking her out of the public high school and bringing her back home for homeschooling.  We're talking about it.  It might be a good idea. We are not going to make any hasty decisions, though.  We want to do what is best for Sarah.  We respect her and her feelings about any decisions like this and her high school education experience.


I must say, it is hard to reconcile in my brain that my little girl was having conversations that were completely inappropriate for a 15 year old.  Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but at some point parents need to step in and protect their children.  15 is much to early to grow up, and our daughters should not have to grow up at this age.  Just so it is clear, Sarah did not initiate any of the conversations - the boy did.  She tried to handle it with a bit more oomph than I would have expected from her, but I give her credit for trying.  Actually, the more I read and re-read the conversations she had had with this boy, the more proud of her I was for some of her responses - like "I choose my friends wisely and you're not one of them" and "I'm saving myself until marriage" and "you're a jerk, leave me alone."  If I wasn't so intent on being parental at the moment, I'd give her a high five.  She tried her best to handle it on her own - I suppose because she knew if we knew about it we would be upset.  Not with her so much, but with the situation as a whole.

We spoke to Sarah's teacher, Principal, and School Counselor the other day, and we are all on the same page.  We are going to work closely together to see to it that this boy no longer speaks to Sarah and bothers her, and we are going to make sure we understand what all of her assignments are, when they are due, and when her tests are scheduled so that we can help her with her studies as needed. 


Bob and I are very involved with our children.  We try to stay on top of all that is going on in their life, who their friends are, who they are hanging out with, and what's on their mind.  Sometimes that can be really tough. 

I think we have this one nipped in the bud.  We had a nice long conversation with Sarah and initially put her on "lock down" from all those things she takes for granted - like computers and cell phones.  But we have since lifted those restrictions and trust that she will let us know promptly when and if any conversation makes her feel uncomfortable.  She knows she can come to us and discuss these things now.  Sometimes we, as parents, have to take a hard line with our children.  I don't think we ever stop being parents.  Good grief, I am almost 50 years old and I still need my mother!  And, my 30 year old daughter has moved home because she needs me too.  Once we become a parent, we are always a parent.  We never stop caring for the welfare of our children.


Now that I have had a chance to calm down from this week's debacle with Sarah, I realize that our children need this hard line now and then.  They need the discipline and structure.  They need to know that we love them enough to listen when it is necessary, and respect them as well.  They need to know that we will trust them until they give us reason not to, and hope that they won't take those privileges for granted. 

This past week was tough - I'm sure the weeks to follow will be better.  Sarah's future is what we care about the most.  We want her to be able to stand on her own 2 feet and have inside of her enough self-respect and dignity not to be controlled by or verbally abused by anyone.  I hope she learned that lesson. She is better than that.  Nobody deserves to be verbally abused, insulted, and bullied.  Thank God we caught this early.


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