A week ago my oldest turned thirteen.
Sometimes in life you realize you are rounding a corner while you’re actually rounding the corner… and Megan turning thirteen was one of them. Things are changing for her. How we’re parenting her is changing. It’s pretty amazing to have a front row seat to all that’s changing in her life.
Some things about being thirteen I know. As a life-long youth worker, I’ve known a seventh grader or two. Toss in some academic preparation, some learning along the way, and on top of that… my ministry partner is widely accepted as an expert on ministering to early adolescents.
But Megan is also teaching me some things about being thirteen that are new to me.
Chief among the things that I’ve learned from her? Embrace innocence.
As an adult and a parent I have this innate fear that my child will be naive and it’ll somehow hurt her. I remember who I was at thirteen, the stuff that happened around me that lead to a lack of innocence as well as the choices I made. And I know what I know about thirteen year olds in our country. Both put me in a space of somehow wanting my daughter to lack innocence. Flawed or not, innocence wasn’t my experience.
Some parts of me want my thirteen year old to be ahead of the curve… two steps ahead instead of two steps behind.
But that’s not who Megan is. See, she’s both lacking in naiveté and innocent… a category that exists that I just didn’t have knowledge of. She does see things, she does hear things, there are people in her life who are ahead of the curve on all the drama a teenager can get into. She’s just picked a rather innocent path.
One of the things I’ve always loved about seventh graders, especially girls, is that they have the ability to have a foot in both the world of their childhood and the world of adolescence in front of them. And that’s where Megan is right now. It’s precious and fleeting, full of hope and full of longing to hold onto. And parents around me all give me the some conciliatory shrug, “Love it because it doesn’t last long.”
Three Recent Points of Impact
In the past few months I’ve had waypoints as I navigate this season of parenting a thirteen year old. These were moments of impact that are changing my own perception of valuing innocence.
- “I learned about porn in small groups.” A few weeks back, in a small group discussion with my freshmen guys we were talking about porn. But one of the off comments kind of pulled me back to this idea of innocence… one guy said, “I learned about porn in small groups.” In other words, the reason they saw porn and started to look at it sexually was because they learned about what it was in church. Oops. Innocence lost because a leader was trying to help protect their innocence.
- “Talk to them specifically about sexting, it’s a big problem in our school.” A few weeks back I did a series of social media workshops in middle schools in Texas. As 7th graders filed out and 6th graders filed in an administrator walked up to me and asked if I’d spend more time talking about sexting. (I actually don’t talk about sexting in my student talk, at all.) As I’ve said before, I don’t believe scaring kids or conjuring up fear that they’ll get in trouble prevents anyone from doing anything. It makes adults feel good to do so, but to think that scaring people is somehow a prevention measure is silly. I told the administrator that I wasn’t going to add in anything about sexting, a big problem isn’t going to get well addressed in an off-comment from a visiting 37 year old speaker. And it’s nearly impossible to believe that a room full of 11-12 year olds are really exchanging photos of their genitals. It’s irresponsible to ruin the innocence of the 99% for the sake of trying to scare the 1%.
- Innocence is a state of mind, not a place of naiveté. I actually learned this from 17 years of marriage to Kristen. In some ways, Kristen grew up in an opposite environment to me. Surely, her parents don’t have the perfect marriage and she didn’t grow up in a perfect home. But she did grow up in a home that allowed innocence to be a choice. I see so much of Kristen, especially the Kristen I met when we were both 18, in Megan. There’s a lot of strength in picking innocence for yourself.
In a world full of sex talk and nasty imagery, there’s nothing wrong with a life of innocence.
And if that makes me an irresponsible parent in the eyes of church, my parenting peers, and the “common sense” mentality of our educational system which feels good about talking to 99% about what the 1% do, well… I guess that’s just a stream we’re willing to swim across.
When I talk about the innocence of my thirteen year old in parenting workshops most parents look at me and smirk, “Enjoy that while it lasts…”
We live in a culture fueled by the degradation of innocence while simultaneously lamenting about innocence lost.
So yeah, I’m embracing Megan’s innocence even if it doesn’t last. But I’m also holding out hope that she holds onto innocence as a lifelong value like her mom.