Parents' failure of imagination yields bad advice


As soon as the headlines hit the porch - alleging that Duke lacrosse players gang-raped a young woman they'd hired to dance at a team party - I fired off an e-mail to my college-aged daughter.

"In case I have failed to have this conversation with you before," I wrote, "never accept a job stripping at a lacrosse party.

"If you need extra money, ask your father and me for it."

It was a cynical and smart-aleck message, but I was not joking.

Exactly where in the official Parents Handbook is this chapter? The one where the experts tell you to warn your children against the dangers inherent in a part-time college job as an exotic dancer?

Does it follow the chapter on the criminal implications of burning churches as a college prank?

Of all the victims in these two college scandals, my heart aches most for the parents of the lacrosse players who may have attacked a young woman from a neighboring college during a night of drinking and for the parents of the three college students accused of setting fire to rural Alabama churches after a night of drinking.

"You have young people 18 to 22 years old; sometimes they're going to make some bad decisions," Duke athletic director Joe Alleva told the press.

No kidding. Especially after a night of drinking.

But as parents, we thought their bad decisions would include things like sleeping through a final, bouncing checks, getting caught with a fake ID or, heaven forfend, buying a term paper online.

And those are the kinds of sermons we have been delivering.

We are hopelessly naive. Hopelessly behind the information curve. Our college-aged children are loose in a world where stupid has slid all the way off the chart and into criminal, and we keep telling them stuff like, "Don't cut any classes and don't party on school nights."

No wonder they don't pay attention to us. No wonder we can't protect them with our outdated wisdom. Instead, we have to have conversations we can barely find words for:

"While you are visiting Football U on this recruiting trip, do not accept money from the coaches or sex from co-eds."

"Filling your roommate's shoes with shaving cream qualifies as a prank. Setting fire to a church, let alone nine churches, does not."

"Congratulations on winning the big game. You understand, don't you, that a prostitute or a hopelessly drunk co-ed is not your reward for scoring the deciding goal?"

"Always do the math: two girls are no match for 40 drunk guys."

"Oral sex is an act of supreme intimacy. It is not a party game."

"Just because a girl is unconscious and not fighting you off does not mean you have her consent to have sex."

"And, by the way, never get so drunk that you can't remember if you had sex."

As parents, we are challenged to imagine every worst-case scenario and then cover the moral and legal implications in stentorian tones with our children.

A simple recitation of the Golden Rule or the Ten Commandments seems so inadequate in the wake of these most recent newspaper headlines.

"These are wonderful boys from wonderful families," said the Rev. Luke L. Travers, headmaster of Delbarton School in Morristown, N.J., from which five of the Duke lacrosse players graduated, in an interview with The New York Times.

Of course they are. Everybody thought the world of the three Alabama students, too.

Navy quarterback Lamar Owens led the team Bible study, for heaven's sake, and he is accused of raping a female midshipman who admitted to being drunk and unconscious.

A "good family" is no longer sufficient inoculation against the kind of indecent and criminal behavior - most often fueled by alcohol - that awaits our children. "Good kids" are no match for the unbridled raunchiness of the real world.

Clearly we are sending our children off to face challenges for which we have not prepared them, even if we have only failed to tell them that they are not as special as they think they are, that they are not beyond the consequences of their immature decisions, and that they are not above the law when those decisions slide from stupid into criminal.

And the terrible irony that may be waiting for parents in all this news?

What if there is no DNA evidence in the alleged assault on the young woman at the Duke lacrosse party?

What if those boys were listening to their parents when they told them to be sure to wear condoms during sex?

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