Teachable Moments

We, enlightened parents, often talk about teachable moments, when our kids become aware of bad things in the world, or do something that gives us the opportunity to talk to them about the risks.  It’s when we teach rather than rule, or so we think.  For example, my sixteen year old daughter recently participated in a ruse in which she and her friends lied about where they were staying overnight in order to go to an unsupervised party at a boys house whose parents were out of town. They all arrived home the next morning with their parents none the wiser, or so they thought.

Teachable moment.

When I was growing up in New York City, there were unsupervised parties.  Or people would just go out.  The drinking age was eighteen, but there were places one could go for underage drinking. If you went to hear Jazz at the Village Vanguard or some other historic club, a two drink minimum was required.  You could order a coke, but if you couldn’t bear paying $3 for a coke (in 1979 that was a lot), you ordered a beer or something stronger and they served it, even to me at thirteen.  My brother and I would go to the third set, which started at 1AM, because Cliff, who worked the door and played basketball with my Dad, would let us in for free.  We’d light up a joint in what was already a cigarette smoke filled room, and then I’d be so tired that I couldn’t enjoy myself.

Cliff didn’t tell our parents any of these details, as far as I ever knew, and we liked, at least the idea, that we had freedom. In New York City you didn’t drive home, so we could later claim that we never did anything that stupid, but it wasn’t necessarily because we wouldn’t have.

There were those, as early as Jr. High School, who got into harder stuff and who didn’t turn out all right.  We could see it happening, and I wonder now why we allowed them to ruin their lives without telling anyone.  Maybe we thought it was obvious.  Maybe we didn’t think they would ruin their lives. Or maybe we thought of ourselves as adults and we didn’t like to be treated like children, as if we feared that if we didn’t grow up right then, we never would.

My dad knew, though. He knew we were out late, certainly.  He even knew we smoked pot, and drank.  He figured, rightly or wrongly, that we would do it anyway, and so he would allow it, though not without a guilt trip, or at least I felt guilty.  He wanted to know, so he could give us wise advice, like that we shouldn’t expect it to solve our problems.  He wanted to know so he could guide us, influence us and love us.  Yes, we can’t really love anyone we don’t know.  Parent’s want, or should want, to know their children, regardless.

So I’m not against knowing all about this party. I like knowing; it makes me feel closer to my daughter. And I suppose that’s a good enough reason to tell all the other parents too, and maybe in the end it’s better this way, but here’s why I wouldn’t have told.

It’s not because I don’t think they were drinking. I assume they were. I don’t assume the worst, and I don’t assume the best, but I’m not naive.  I’ll give them credit, actually, for staying overnight.  That was the responsible thing to do, rather than driving home, or even wandering around town in the middle of the night drunk and vulnerable.

And it’s not because I don’t think it was wrong to host a party while your parents are “at the lake.”

And it’s not because I’m on the kids side and think they have, like my old friend, Adam Yauck of the Beastie Boys, might have said,  “the right to party.”

I’m not so sympathetic that I care if they get busted and punished, they’ll get over it and will tell the story in years to come.

The reason is solely because of the means in which we obtained the information, which was that one of the parents employed covert surveillance on her daughter’s iphone.  Is this why so many parents buy their kids iphones?  And here I just thought the kids were being spoiled.  Well, maybe some of them are, I’ll give their parents the benefit of the doubt.  I admit I was once tempted to employ such GPS surveillance myself, but it was because I was worried about abduction.

This is indeed, to me, a very teachable moment, an opportunity to teach the kids that they have rights. It is an opportunity to teach them about what they should expect from their country, their school too, and even their parents.  Do we teach them, instead, that they have no expectation of privacy, that it’s ok to track their whereabouts without their knowledge? That would be unconstitutional if the government did it, and it should be.

These are tomorrow’s citizens, almost literally.  In a year and a half most of them will be voting (even if not legally drinking). We need them to know what they should stand up for and that the rights we purport to value, that define us as patriots, are meaningful.

Whether parents are using iphones. or the British are searching colonists houses looking for violations of the stamp act or whatever it was that inspired our founding fathers to write the 4th Amendment, it feels about the same. Parents, of course, are not bound by the constitution, but if we profess to believe in it, we should adhere to it’s principles.

If they aren’t “keeping it in the road” so to speak, there will be other evidence.  Someone will throw up at a party, and their parents will smell it. If a child is doing hard drugs and/or troubled in a serious way, there will be signs, and we should look for them. We don’t need to violate their rights, and the rights of all their friends as it turns out,  without a good reason for concern.

So, what do we do, now that we know? There’s only one choice, in my mind: we exclude the evidence.  In the legal venue this is called “the exclusionary rule,” and it means that if evidence is obtained illegally, it can’t be used. Without it, the right is meaningless.  We should not have had this evidence, and so simply put, we shouldn’t spread it around, and in any case, the kids shouldn’t get in trouble.

Of course, We can’t un-know something that we now know, but we can choose how we act on it.

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