I went into one of those name-brand-for-less stores the other day to try to find some hip new jeans for my oldest daughter who, at ten years old, has developed a very strong sense of her own style. Trying to strike a balance between hip (for her) and cheap (for me) I settled upon two pair that I found on the clearance rack. I purchased them (after waiting entirely too long in the customer service line with only one person checking out – a blog post for another time) and walked excitedly to the car plunking the bag right up front in the seat next to me. I was anxious to show her what I had picked out all by myself, visualizing the look of pride on her face when she pulled them out of the bag and realized that I had actually done right by her. When she got in the car after school, it was the first thing I blurted out. “I got you some new jeans today!” “You did?” she says. I met her eyes in the rear-view mirror and could tell she was excited to see them. I tossed the bag back to her in the back seat so that she could look them over. Frustrated, “Mom, I only like dark jeans.” Once she tried them on at home, she decided that she definitely didn’t like the light pair of jeans and would “never wear them”. Grrrrrrr…. I agreed to return them, though, and find something she would wear which is a far cry from the way I was raised. “You get what you get, or you get nothin’.”
I took her and her best friend with me for the exchange. As we walked toward the store, she turns to me and asks me if she and her friend could shop “alone”. Ouch! This was the first time she had asked me to keep my distance and it stung a little bit more than I expected that it would. I agreed to this and let them walk ahead of me into the store and go toward the pre-teen area as I made the return at the customer service counter. Now, here is where it gets exciting. As I walked into the store, two young girls – probably 16 or 17 – passed by me and out to the parking lot. I entered the store through the second set of doors and was almost mowed down by a short, stocky loss prevention associate. Moments later, I saw him escort the two young ladies back into the store. Apparently, he suspected that the two had shoplifted some panties, or so I was told by the MOD who happened to be standing at the counter where I was doing my return.
A-ha! I saw this as a learning opportunity for my daughter and her friend. Even though they hadn’t witnessed the ordeal firsthand, I was confident that I could tell it in such a way as to “scare” them into never ever trying to get away with something so stupid. So I tell them the story as we walk out to the car at the end of our shopping trip. Her friend is the first to respond saying, “If you were going to risk getting caught, why shoplift panties? Why not shoplift a t.v. or something like that?” Um, not exactly the response I was hoping for, BUT my daughter hadn’t said anything yet so there was still a chance. She spoke right up saying, “Why would you be dumb enough to shoplift in the first place?” Whew, I thought. I must be raising them right.
Now, I am absolutely going to take credit for her strict moral compass even though I have no idea what I ever said or did to contribute to developing that moral compass because I’m her mother for Pete’s sake. If I’m to blame for the bad stuff, you can bet I’m going to take credit for the good stuff. All joking aside, though, her sense of rightness in this particular instance is more likely a result of the fact that her father is a criminal defense attorney and she has sat in court for hours watching what happens when folks rub up against our judicial system. I’m sure that when she witnesses a judge tell a defendant that he should’ve brought his toothbrush because he was staying, it struck a fear so deep in her that she wouldn’t dream of breaking the law. Some might argue that a child her age, or younger even, shouldn’t witness such things. That exposing children to the harsh realities of life too early is detrimental to their development.
For those of you looking for a “how to” piece, this ain’t it. I don’t have answers that can neatly fit into a text box, and that are fit for world consumption. I do believe that talking to your kids about things like this (as well as things like sex and drugs) early on and often is never harmful so long as there is a context for the conversation, and the conversation is couched in words that are “friendly” to them. One of my daughter”s favorite vocal artists is Eminem. Because of that, we have had countless conversations about why his wife, little Hailey’s mom, went away. Why did they get divorced? What are drugs? Will drugs make you do bad things? Did she get better? Granted, my daughter may be atypical. She is verbally and socially mature for her age. She came out of the womb that way. But the message is the same. I would encourage parents to use every open door that they give you and don’t be afraid to give them information.
I also want to emphasize the word “often” that I used above because even though she made me proud this time, doesn’t mean that a few years down the road when her friends change, mood or attitude changes that she would answer the same way. And that is why talking….and talking….and talking to your kids is so important. I can’t believe the amount of academic and social stress kids are under these days so I can certainly understand why parents are hesitant to talk to them about such weighty subjects. Information, though, actually takes stress and pressure off of them. I know, it’s a crazy concept. But really, it frees up space in their mind so that they can concentrate on what ultimately are the most important things sitting in front of them.
So that’s my story for the day. I’d love to hear your comments.