Safe at Home

After 300 college visits over the past several decades, perhaps I can be forgiven for skipping out on the information session and taking a personal tour. I have heard "take the most academically rigorous courses your high school has to offer" enough times to believe that it's true. I have heard "there are no drugs or alcohol on this campus" enough times to know that it's not. So I ducked out of the walking backwards campus tour and into the LBGTQ room at a Southern College recently determined to get the real low down. Having insight into authentic campus issues--race relations, drug and alcohol culture, safety--helps me advise students at a deeper level. The match between student and school is important. "Strong business department" or "spacious dorm rooms" doesn't do much for students if they don't feel safe. Where better to look beyond the brochures than the meeting room of the LBGTQ kids?

A dozen gay and transgender students lounged around on couches and comfy chairs. After introducing myself and my purpose, I asked about their minority experience on campus. "What is the worst of it?" "What can you tell me about discrimination on campus?" "Is the bullying over or do you find the majority of the unpleasantness are acts of micro-aggression?"

An embarrassed silence followed. Who can blame them, I thought. It can't be easy to disclose to a stranger incidents of intimidation and harassment. I remembered that at my high school, it was impossible to be gay and be "out." It not only wouldn't have been safe, it wouldn't have been feasible. Finally, one kid spoke up. "There is this one English teacher," he began. Here it comes, I thought. I waited sympathetically for a narrative that would doubtless remind me of the Laramie Project from 2000. A young gay man is brutally beaten and left for dead. I hoped that we have made some progress since then.

"She is completely unreasonable." Now we are getting somewhere, I thought. "She is such a stickler," the student continued. A stickler? "She's like in love with the MLA or something."  The Modern Language Association? "Yes, they publish guidelines for term papers. One-inch margins, 12 point font. And the requirements for the bibliography are Draconian. God forbid you get the form for a journal article mixed up with how you're supposed to annotate a paper edited by more than one author."

I was stupefied. And not because I haven't struggled with the bibliography section of research papers myself. "That's what you have to complain about?" I stuttered. "Research papers? You don't have any stories about harassment, discrimination, meanness, insensitivity?" The students just looked at me.

I could not help but wonder how the Australopithecines felt meeting the new generation of Homo habilis. "The order is rapidly fadin'," I thought.

But my point is less anthropological or about the new order then it is about the children growing up in your home. Wouldn't it be great if the worst thing they had to worry about was helping with the dishes? Wouldn't it be great if they were allowed to be who they are? If your daughter is not a math kid, shouldn't you allow her to feel comfortable reading books and writing poems? If your daughter does not excel academically, shouldn't she be allowed to follow her passion for building things? Apparently, we are making some progress allowing gay kids to be who they are. Shouldn't your home be a safe place for your kids as well?

You can influence your kids, but probably not in the ways that you think you can. Forcing your daughter to study accounting rather than music never works. In the unlikely event that she is able to be successful in both disciplines, don't you think she'll be resentful if you force her in one direction rather than the other? Your best bet as a parent, is to model sober, sensible behavior. Help her study if she asks for help. And spend some no-agenda time. Tossing a Frisbee or going for a hike are known to be high on my list.

Give your kids a safe space to be who they are, whoever they are. You have few choices about the world in which your kids live. But you have tremendous influence regarding the home in which they grow up. Why not endeavor to make your home as safe as you possibly can?

2 thoughts on “Safe at Home

  1. Patrick S O'Malley

    David, I am completely lost here. Are you advocating that if someone has a child that is thinking that they are interested in the same sex or are not sure they were meant to be who God made them? Please help me understand your position. I am raising my children to know God’s law and follow it and love all others but to stand against wrong always.

    Reply
  2. Caroline

    “You have few choices about the world in which your kids live. But you have tremendous influence regarding the home in which they grow up.”
    That is so beautifully said. Kudos David

    If all my kids have to complain about is making the bed in the morning, I’ll keep in mind that things are going well!

    Reply

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