“If there is one thing you could tell your parents, what would that be?” This is the question that a TV hostess put to her teenage guest. The young lady’s face gleamed at the chance of being a parent to her parents, if only momentarily, and telling them exactly what she felt they needed to hear. “I would tell them,” she replied, with an air of supreme confidence, “to be more lenient with us because THE TIMES HAVE CHANGED!” She gave the last four words strong emphasis as if her mom and dad were either hard of hearing or hard of thinking.
It was a most revealing answer, if one is willing to read into it. At face value, it may have been predictable. Teenagers are likely to love freedom more than discipline. Yet, it is far too simplistic to believe that teenagers are alert to change while their parents are insensitive to it. Is there any parent who is not on life support who is not keenly aware of change? We now have flat screen televisions, high speed Internet, on-line banking, ATM machines, iPads, same-sex “marriage”, bone marrow transplants, keyless entrances to cars, genetically modified food, the Zika Virus, physician-assisted suicide, and the persistent threat of terrorism. A person, parent or otherwise, could no more be inattentive to such changes than one could fail to notice the presence of rain during a thunderstorm. Change is merely a synonym for what’s happening. Both parents and their children face the same formidable problem of how to navigate through the stormy seas of incessant change. They need to assist, not oppose, each other.
The problem, it should be evident, does not consist in being unaware of change, but rather in how to cope with it. Teenagers are notorious for underestimating the wisdom of their parents. As Mark Twain famously stated, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” It is amazing how fast parents grow up.
How would the girl’s parents have replied if our TV hostess had posed the corollary question: “If there is one thing you could tell your teenage daughter what would that be?” I fancy that the mom or dad would say, “Be sure to put your faith in that which will not betray you.” This would be a more loving than critical response. The things that change are not worthy of our dedication. We may profit by using new things, but only when we relate them to something more permanent. Using emails to communicate matters of importance to family members would be one example. If you marry a fashion, you will soon be divorced. As G. K. Chesterton once remarked, “The view that a thing is old-fashioned is itself a fashion; and may soon be an old fashion.”
The notion that the current fashion cannot be surpassed and worthy of our complete dedication is charmingly spoofed in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1955 musical Oklahoma: “Ev’rythin’s up to date in Kansas City. They’ve gone about as fur as they c’n go! Y’ c’n turn the radiator on whenever you want some heat. With ev’ry kind o’ comfort ev’ry house is all complete.” Not only that, the folks in KC also had the “surrey with the fringe on top”.
Every age can boast of being the most modern and up-to-date in history. But it is a boast that can never be maintained. A commercial from the 50s, for example, “Be modern, smoke L & M,” no longer sounds modern, fashionable, or even sensible. It has passed into the archives of nostalgia and indicates, more than anything else, how gullible people were in that era.
In his Agenda for the Third Millennium, Pope John Paul II advised us to put our faith in Jesus: “I urge you to preserve intact your faith in Jesus the Savior, who died and rose again for us. Listen carefully to his Gospel, which the Church continues preaching to you with unchanging fidelity to what has been taught from the beginning.” He spoke of the “newness” of the Gospel that prevents us from drowning in the “overwhelming conformism of mass civilization”. God’s Word is eternal; what is fashionable today is obsolete tomorrow. No one has ever profited by pledging “unchanging fidelity” to a passing fancy.
The ephemeral will always betray us. It has no lasting power. The stability of Church teaching is a credit to Her refusal to adapt to a world of change. She provides a light that cannot be extinguished. As C. S. Lewis once stated, “Everything that is not eternal is eternally out of date.” Being up-to-date with modernity means being out-of-date with eternity. Being more “lenient” with children is not the key to raising them properly. The Gospel provides what is needed: both newness as well as permanence.
One thing remains reasonably certain, namely, that parents are in a better position, all things considered, to raise their teenagers, than the latter are to raise their parents. The alternative view is one change that we should neither advance nor tolerate. No teenager aspires to being married one day and allowing his or her children to determine how they should be raised. The task of parenting belongs to the parents.