Monday, September 24, 2012
When my daughter was a toddler, a colleague of mine — with no rug rats of his own — liked to spoil her. He helped me pick out souvenirs on business trips. He made her extraordinary custom birthday party invitations. He returned from Disney World with the pinkest, frilliest, sparkliest princess hat he could find.
He clearly loved kids, so one day I suggested he and his partner think about having some of their own.
"Oh no," he objected. "That would be way too hard."
I tried to reassure him and he eventually shrugged and said, "Well, I guess the most important thing would just be honesty. Never lie to them. Always tell the truth."
There was another parent in the room with us at the time, and he and I both choked.
"Are you kidding?" I managed to say.
"I lie to my kids all the time," our colleague added.
The childless friend was surprised and we quickly filled him in. On top of the tallest tales: Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, there were countless smaller stretchings of the truth every day. Sometimes for the child's own good. More often, to preserve the parent's sanity.
"Sorry honey, we're all out of Oreos."
Now that my daughter is a teenager, it's harder to avoid the truth. Tell her there are no Cheese Puffs left and she'll go and look for herself. Try to keep a private conversation with her father private and prepare to face a raised eyebrow at best, followed by unrelenting nagging until you give in and 'fess up. Somehow, between the ages of five and fifteen, my daughter has developed a finely tuned bullsh*t meter. She knows when I'm trying to cover something up and she will not rest until the truth comes out.
She's not alone. Teens these days don't want a whitewashed version of the world around them. They want truth, T-R-U-T-H. Their favorite musician just went into rehab? No problem. They not only want the juicy details, but the star's flaws make them more alluring. It isn't so much that teen fans want to emulate their idols' bad behavior either. It's more about being "real."
On Facebook, they leaves posts on each other's walls that start with the words: "Truth is ..." Then they add some private joke or personal message. It could be funny or sweet or silly. The point is, it's "truth."
The same principle holds for YouTube videos. My generation may watch reality shows on TV. (Truth is ... I've been known to pour a glass of pinot and cringe along with The Real Housewives of New York. For the record, as a native New Yorker I can assure you that there is nothing "real" about them.) But, my daughter's friends would rather watch homemade videos of less-than-beautiful people telling it as they see it. Anything too slick, too scripted, too produced and they tune out. Truth is, it's not truth.
I find it interesting that my daughter is reaching (if not already at) an age when lying becomes more and more of an issue. I was an extremely "good girl" when I was her age, but I was still an accomplished liar. (Thankfully, my own adolescent untruths were not about sex or drugs or alcohol — they were mainly about fabricated sleepovers in order to see midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.)
There's a certain amount of vigilance that comes with parenting a teen. High school started just three weeks ago and I've already heard tales of students feigning illness in order to "ditch." I am trying to give my daughter the benefit of the doubt, but there's a part of me waiting to catch her. When (not if) I do, I'm hoping it is something relatively harmless. A mild act of filial rebellion, not a major felony.
Just as I want honesty from her, she wants to know the truth about me too. I tend to be a perfectionist, and it's hard to face up to my own weaknesses. Then again, my daughter is very quick to find my flaws. I might as well admit when I'm wrong or just don't know the answers.
Truth is ... she'll find reasons to roll her eyes anyway. I might as well keep it "real."