SAN DIEGO – America, we have a problem. We already knew that a lot of people were flunking Parenthood 101.
But a racist video of students at the University of Oklahoma shows that the problem extends to people in society who are willing to excuse those who are failing the course.
Welcome to the new social order, where kids call the shots and parents try not to run afoul of their offspring.
Guess which group is getting pushed around. Recently, I heard a dad joke that he tells his son: “I hope you’re not talking to your teachers the way you speak to your mom and me. Because they’ll slap you.”
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Yet many parents still think it’s their duty to defend their children when they misbehave, to offer excuses, or to make it seem as if it’s those who are offended that have the problem.
There was a lot to be offended by at the University of Oklahoma, where members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity were caught on camera reciting a racist chant that included the “N-word” and a reference to lynching.
Two of the students were identified as Parker Rice, a 19-year-old freshman, and Levi Pettit, a 20-year-old sophomore. Both were expelled from the university, and the fraternity has been banned from campus.
Rice apologized soon after the video was made public earlier this month, but Pettit didn’t say a word for more than two weeks. He recently broke his silence, reading from a prepared statement at a news conference in Oklahoma City where he was flanked by local African-American leaders.
“There are no excuses for my behavior,” Pettit said. “I never thought of myself as a racist. I never considered it a possibility. But the bottom line is that the words that were said in that chant were mean, hateful and racist.”
But what has most interested me all along is the reaction of the parents.
In a skillfully crafted public statement issued just days after the video was released, the Pettits hit exactly the right note by acknowledging that their family had “the responsibility to apologize, and also to seek forgiveness and reconciliation.”
Meanwhile, I’ve been critical of Bob Rice, Parker’s father and a Dallas realtor who – aside from hand-delivering his son’s statement to the Dallas Morning News – has kept a low profile throughout this whole sordid affair.
As I wrote in a recent column, that’s an abdication of parental responsibility. Many readers came to Rice’s defense.
A typical response: “At some point, the actions of a child have nothing to do with the way he was parented. As the mother of two grown sons, I took full responsibility for their actions as children and teenagers. However, a parent’s responsibility does end. That being said, I do believe it’s a parent’s responsibility to support and love their children even when they make bad, even reprehensible choices.”
In other words, you don’t stop loving your children. But at some point, feel free to stop claiming them.
For the last few weeks, we’ve scrutinized these young men and, to a lesser degree, their parents. Now it’s time to focus on those members of society who enable wrongdoing – who, like the reader, are so eager to give parents a pass. Those sorts of lax public attitudes are part of the problem. What happened to holding people accountable?
As the father of three small children, I accept that parents don’t just get to share the victories and take their slice of credit when their kid gets into an Ivy League school or wins a championship. That’s the easy part of the job. We also need to take a modicum of responsibility when things go wrong.
When I see a child behaving well, or a teenager achieving, or a young adult behaving responsibly, I compliment the parents. Why? Because I assume, from the offspring’s accomplishments, that they were raised well. It works the other way too. When we see children misbehaving in public, we glare at the parents. Because, we assume, they’re not up to the task.
Even when our children become adults, we don’t get to wash our hands of the job we did as parents. It doesn’t work that way. There is no expiration date on parenting.
As long as we’re accepting gifts for Father’s Day, or going to brunch on Mother’s Day, we’re still in the game. So it’s about time that we all learned how to play.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.