||My daughter is almost 14 and has belonged to a folk dance group for about a year. The group practices weekly, and I always perceived it to be a good experience for her. She is never left alone there, or goes to anyone's home. She has no other activities with children outside the home, other than a catechism class.
Last week I saw emails that she was receiving from another girl, and emails that my daughter sent to the girl. The things they were talking about were inappropriate for young girls (or anyone!). My daughter has this email from the curriculum provider, but I was not aware that she was using it for anything but school. We would never allow an email for children to communicate. We do not have cable TV, or go to movies, receive magazines, etc. I immediately contacted the school and had the email cancelled. I then confronted my daughter, told her I was surprised she did not realize that their emails to each other were inappropriate, and she needs to be aware of who she chooses to befriend. She did not get upset, but she lied to me by saying she did not say anything inappropriate.
I am shocked this has happened. I am homeschooling to keep my children away from these kinds of situations! Does my daughter not know right from wrong because she is so sheltered? I would love to pull her out of her dance class, because of this bad influence-- Yet, does she need some involvement with other children? What would you do if this were your daughter?
Thank you so much for your very thoughtful letter. I certainly appreciate your taking the time to write, as it is obvious that you have quite a bit going on in your life at the moment. I particularly appreciate the sentence in your letter that states "What would you do if this were your daughter?" That is so full of wisdom and respectful of the uniqueness of parenting styles. I would like very much to give you my thoughts, with the understanding that this is how my husband and I personally feel and it is from this standpoint that we have tried to parent. Through prayer and much trial and error we have come to an understanding of the special needs of young adults.
You are very blest that the Lord has given you the gift of being privy to the emails that your daughter has been engaged in. This indeed gives you some reference for your concern. However it is important to remember that teens often speak of topics that are to some embarrassing or of an adult nature. Let me explain. They are curious and because they are curious they may have questions and real fears about certain topics. It is not unusual for teens to confide in one another about these concerns (though I suspect that the majority would rather talk with a parent). Why? Because they feel comfortable asking their questions to a peer. This is unfortunate, because oftentimes the information that they pass between one another is inappropriate (what we view as inappropriate, teens may merely view as a curiosity) and many times wrong. It is important to keep the lines of communication open between ourselves and our teens. We do this by not being "shocked" or "angry" when certain topics are raised. After all, we are working very hard as parents to be the person that our children will turn to with problems and questions. If we appear unforgiving or dismayed then we discourage their confidence. Teenagers are adults in the making and as such are going to make mistakes and seek information about their roles. Curiosity is not unholy but rather a normal part of the maturing process. Make certain that your children feel able to bring all their questions to you.
I personally would not keep my daughter from the dance class, because from your description it sounds like a very well organized and supervised activity. Instead I would embrace her new friendships and sincerely encourage her to bring her friends to the house. Know your children's peers and their parents is the best piece of advice I can give. It is absolutely necessary that we become part of our children's lives by allowing ourselves to enter into their lives not just orchestrate who they will interact with, etc. Teens need to make choices about friends and situations. What a blessing to be homeschooling and having a certain degree of control. However we do not want that control to discourage our children from developing the skill of making choices about friendships. Again, know your child's friends and encourage their coming to your home. Make your home a haven for teens and their activities. In this way you are able to better supervise the going ons. You will be on the front line should you suspect inappropriate choices.
It has been my observation, that just about the time I begin to get bad "vibes" about a person, my teens have already picked up on it and feel the same way. There have been times when I have misjudged a teen friend and I must let my children know that I have been wrong. Making wise choices about relationships is important and helping our children learn good "radar" is vital and of the Lord. Remember the radar we seek is not streetwise smarts but the inner wisdom and courage that comes from the Holy Spirit. By the way, I am more cautious with teenagers who have not had the Sacrament of Confirmation.
When we embark on the task of homeschooling highschool-aged children we must be very careful not to make the mistake of denying independence because we are nervous about the choices our children will make. If we become too controlling then we only serve to drive our children away from homeschooling and they become rebellious and resentful of homeschooling. They see homeschooling as a punishment or worse yet, a means of controlling their behavior because, in their words, "you don't trust me, do you?" Both of these assumptions are certainly false and should not figure in to our seeking the homeschooling lifestyle. Teens are creative and will find a way to be with their friends. You are very wise in that you have provided a suitable outlet for your daughter's natural desire to be among her peers. Don't stop there. Invite and encourage your daughter to bring her new friends home. I can not say it enough.
We must protect our children and their innocence. This is a strong theme in much of my reflections lately. I believe very strongly that if we will guard our children's innocence we nurture their adult spirituality. Let me explain. The Lord often referred to His "little ones." Who are the Lord's little ones? Are the little ones those children that are under the age of 6? Not hardly. We are the Lord's little ones. Each human being was created in the Lord's image and likeness because we are the Lord's children. As His children what is the single most important issue that we must trust and rely upon in order to grow in Christ and continue on our faith journey until we reach our Heavenly home? We must trust and rely without a shadow of doubt in the Lord's mercy and forgiveness. We must understand the power of His unconditional and never changing love for us. We must believe ourselves to be worthy, holy, and desirable in the eyes of the Lord. We must believe that there is no sin, no indiscretion, no mistake, no folly that will separate us from the Lord's gaze. He will never abandon us, nor will He deny us forgiveness if we but come to Him. You see in order for us to have the confidence to come to the Lord for forgiveness we must believe that He will receive us with open arms.
Think of the prodigal son. What kept him away from the father's forgiveness and love? His own fear that he would not be loved or forgiven. This is the Tempter's doing.
How do we preserve our children's innocence? We imitate the Father's love for our children. In so doing we are going a long way towards firmly implanting the knowledge that will keep them close to Jesus in later years as adults, when the stakes are much higher. I tell my children, "If the Tempter can make you believe that Jesus will not forgive you a little sin, then it is easier for him to make you believe that Jesus will not forgive you a big sin." If we buy into this lie, then we cut ourselves off from the only source of life.
You have been very patient to have read this lengthy reply. I want you to understand that these are my personal thoughts on the subject. My husband and myself have often said that the hardest part of parenting these 10 children has not been the hours in the physical labor which is the work of a household but the immeasurable amount of time spent in the nurturing and "talking" with teenagers and young adults. Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.
You are an inspiration to me. I admire your dedication and purpose. Your strong and loving witness has renewed my vigor to continue with joy the work ahead of me. I praise God and thank Him for such a witness. You are indeed the Lord's faithful and hard-working daughter and my sister in Christ.
Jesus, please shower all parents with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Let our children stand firm in the knowledge of Your love and Your tender mercy, knowing without doubt that You will continue to love despite the mistakes we make. Your forgiveness is the greatest and sweetest of gifts. Amen.
Sending out a prayer,