Langley and I met a young woman and her canine companion in the neighborhood. Our dogs clearly wanted to play but unlike Langley who is trained to come when called, her dog was not yet competent to return after a romp. So, the four of us walked along together, Langley gamboling and frolicking, her dog wrenching her arm out of its socket as he strained to duck and weave with my bounding pooch. We chatted amicably about weather and neighborhood real estate prices. Approaching my house, I invited the young woman and her energetic pup to join me and Langley in the backyard. "Right this way," I suggested. "We have a fenced in area behind this gate. The dogs can play to their heart's content." The young woman declined my invitation, hastily walking away, glancing back over her shoulder.
What is obvious to you gentle reader--that no young woman in her right mind will enter a secluded area with an unknown man--was not immediately apparent to me. But I had hardly begun relating the story to my wife and children at dinner that night when my younger daughter rolled her eyes and said, "ugh, creepy." Were I a cartoon character, the lightbulb would have gone off in the thought balloon over my head: Of course this young woman did not want to enter into a secluded space with an older male whom she did not know. I was thinking of happy dogs playing tug of war with a palm frond. She was thinking of abduction.
My naïveté is not the subject of this column. Indeed, my immaturity and unawareness of the prevalent social mores could fill any number of newsletters. Rather I want to opine about how the poor behavior of others influences the way healthy families want to live and bring up their children.
A male sophomore walking across campus at 10:00 pm sees a young woman from their chemistry class. Summoning his nerve, he engages her in conversation and asks her if she would like to continue chatting over a cup of coffee at the student union. Her response to the invitation will be influenced by her perception. If her experience of her campus and her world are places where young people converse over mocha cappuccino as a prelude to dating, commitment, and grandchildren, her response will be different from a conceptualization of an environment in which drugged drinks and date rape are the norm.
Of course, our hypothetical young woman may not be at all preoccupied with my 19th century views of courtship. She may indeed be looking for a brief romance or any number of other ways to connect with our imaginary classmate. But her understanding of the social mores that lead to hook ups, wedding bells, or some combination will have been influenced by her perceptions of the broader ethos. She is well aware that every 19-year-old on her campus has viewed pornography that is frequently as violent as it is unlikely. Her understanding and expectations surrounding physical intimacy will have been influenced by young men whose anticipation may be bizarrely improbable. Why did Susie call the police? All I wanted to do was treat her like the women in the videos.
How do loving parents bring up boys and girls who are likely to be respectful, decent, sensible? How do we help our young adult children articulate what they expect, what they enjoy, what they’re comfortable with? Start when they’re young, talk about good touch and bad touch. Keep the dialogue open when they’re older. Be accepting and supportive. Your adolescents have to be comfortable approaching you with questions and concerns. Their peers, in addition to being complete and utter dim bulbs, may have an agenda of which you would grievously disapprove.
Whatever you do, hush up about your child's grades. There's a connection between academic achievement and a healthy attitude about physical intimacy? Of course! In the sense that a child who doesn't feel good telling her parents, this math course is too difficult is unlikely to be able to say, I'm not comfortable with what my peers want me to do.
As always, there has to be a yes with every no. No, in our home we do not access violent pornography. But we do allow privacy, long showers, and respect. We also encourage our beloved children to engage in age-appropriate, healthy behaviors. Yes, we will give you a ride to the movies. Yes, we will take your friends camping with us. Yes, we will leave you alone to figure things out, make mistakes, walk your path, live your life. But no, we can't condone behavior that harms anyone.
I, for one, would like to live in a world in which my frolicking canine could have a doggie playdate. It’s a shame that young women in my neighborhood have to think as much about their safety as about watching their dogs rough and tumble.