When my son Benjamin was 12 years old, he was standing in the kitchen, nibbling on some barbecue potato chips. Although we had been together recently, we hadn't really had any substantive, meaningful conversations in a week or so. So I'm certain I stunned him with a question I asked for no other reason than just keeping in touch with a son going through puberty. I asked, "You been keeping your mind clean at school, son?"
I paused for emphasis, not that the question needed any help. Then I added, "You know, pornography—the kind of sleazy stuff curious boys pass around and look at?"
I don't know who was more surprised—Benjamin, at my point-blank-range question, or me, with his response. He looked me straight in the eye with a half-grin and said, "Funny you should ask. Today at school a friend brought a Penthouse magazine into the locker room. But I didn't look at it. I just turned and walked out."
"Good for you! Good for you!" I said twice to let my affirming words soak into that growing boy's heart. The big grin that made its way across his face told me he was proud he had done what was right.
Asking the hard questions
The question I confronted Benjamin with was a hard one. He handled it well. I couldn't help but wonder if someday the roles would be switched and he would be the one asking me the hard questions of accountability. It would be a son asking his dad a surprise question. Then I would be the one squirming on the hot seat.
As parents we know how to ask those hard questions, but the real issue is, are we ready to answer them when they are launched our way? Will you be ready when the roles are reversed—and it's your offspring doing the asking of you?
A two-question survey given to our church's youth group reminded me that kids can ask tough questions. Here are their startling responses:
Question: "What subject do you wish you could have someone else ask your parents to discuss with you?"
Answers: Petting. Marriage. Sex. Relationships. Biology. College. Dating relationships. Big responsibilities. Grades. Money. Dating. Marijuana. Drugs. Using the car. Curfew. Allowance. God. Drinking. Guys. Friends. Bathing suits. Peer pressure. Making my own decisions. Love. Beliefs of my own. Sex. Me. Sex. My faults. Failures in my Christian walk—how to overcome these. Friends and boyfriend problems. Friends. Stereos. Girls. Money. College. Their divorce.
As frank as those responses were, they didn't capture my attention like the following list of answers to question number two: "What three questions would you like to ask your parents if someone else could ask them for you?"
Why do you always pat your daughter's butt in public?
Are you Christians?
Why do parents have more trouble talking to kids than kids have talking to parents? Does there come a time when parents must turn the child loose from their authority and hope they've taught them correctly?
Dating—why not earlier? Car—why not sooner?
Do you feel you treat your children equally?
Were you a virgin when you got married? If not, how old were you and with whom?
Did you ever party and drink? Have you ever done something horrible that you regretted?
How would you feel if your child was a drughead, smoker, or drinker, and how would you deal with that? Why do you avoid tough issues? How would you feel if your child skipped, then flunked out of school and didn't go to college?
What can I do to make my mom trust me again? Why are my mom and sister ashamed of the way I look since I don't look like them?
Have either one of you ever had an affair?
What's the best way for your child to deal with loneliness?
I would ask what my father did to my mother to cause their divorce. I would ask my mother if my father was her first. I would ask my father if he has cheated on his present wife.
Are you sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this marriage will last any longer than your previous ones? Are you willing to admit to your children, specifically, the mistakes you have made and then try to make recompense?
Did you really do things so much better than us? Are you as good-natured as you say you are?
How do I know that I'm doing the right thing? How am I supposed to live practically?
Why do you get mad when I talk about Christ? Which is more important: If you had to give up me or your business, which would it be? Do you communicate with your children or just dictate to them?
Do you honestly love me? Why do you have to compare me with my other sister?
Where did my half-brother come from? How are you going to get by when I'm gone, since your stated purpose is living for me (as opposed to living for the Lord)?
Why do you always go away so much, Dad?
Do you love or even care about me? Do you think I am worthy or can do anything? Why won't you ever listen to me?
Did Dad ever have an affair? Why does he drink?
What were your teenage years really like?
Did you have premarital sex?
Why do parents spoil their kids when they know what will happen when they grow up?
How do you feel about forgery? What would happen if I got somebody pregnant?
What type of girl would you prefer for me? How do you feel about my present dating relationship?
Why is it so important to be a "success"? Is that or anything like that going to get you to heaven?
What disappoints my parents most? What do I do that you really appreciate and makes you proud?
If you could do or be anything you wanted without the restrictions of a family, what would you do/be?
What was your biggest problem as a teenager? How did you deal with it? What do you think my biggest problems are?
Why is it wrong to pet? Were you a virgin when you got married? If so, was it worth it?
Well, what do you think? Are you ready for questions like these? How would you answer them if asked? Are you living obediently to Christ at home so that your teens wouldn't even wonder about some of these issues? The next generation needs our example and our involvement. We need to be careful that we don't skirt the issues. And when it is possible and in the best interests of the child, we need to answer their questions.
Copyright © 2006 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
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