Dear Dr. Wes & Kelly: OK, Kelly. Time for a mea culpa to pastors and their families after your column on spring break. First, "preachers' daughters" are not necessarily raised by their parents in a sheltered environment. Most of them do have normal kid and teenage experiences. Second, your implication is that a pastor's daughter is more likely to abuse alcohol in a senior trip setting than those teenagers not from a minister's family. Wrong again. Incorrect assumptions lead to incorrect conclusions.
Kelly: Oh the pitfalls of freedom of speech. First, I would like to say that I meant no insult by the term "preacher's daughter." It was meant to be interpreted metaphorically to represent someone raised in a "sheltered" environment. It was to show how ironic life can be. In no way was it meant to generalize or cause any distress toward preachers and their families. Perhaps I should have said "a teen who has been sheltered from these experiences." New to the journalism field, I should have realized in this line of work that I would need to be a little cautious about stepping one somebody's toes. I guess you learn something new every day.
The main idea I was attempting to convey (and did a poor job doing so) was that a kid from a sheltered environment is more likely to take advantage of going wild at parties than a kid who has been pre-exposed to such behavior, because they see alcohol as forbidden fruit.
When teenagers get to that stubborn, unbearable age, they are more inclined to rebel and go against the gradient if they feel they are being "controlled." My implication was not that preacher's daughters specifically are predisposed to alcohol abuse. I simply believe if parents loosen the tight leashes and slowly and naturally teach their children about responsibility and about the highs and lows of teenage life, those kids will be less likely to abuse alcohol once given the freedom to do so without supervision.
Wes: As a preacher's kid myself, I would have to agree with you in principle. However, PKs, like most kids of high-profile parents, do struggle with issues not shared by many of their peers. They are seen as models in the community - a role many are unprepared to fulfill.
For example, we came dangerously close to turning Sarah Palin's pregnant teenager into some kind of fallen paragon of implied virtue, and I'm glad the media backed off after an initial foray in that direction. It was unfair to a family struggling with the same problems we discuss every week in this column. Being a pastor or a governor doesn't inoculate anyone from life - just as you point out - but it does make one's mistakes more public.
As for the sheltered or unsheltered issue, I agree with Kelly that there's an argument to be made for the forbidden fruit theory. There's even some research on younger children to support it.
However, while I respect Kelly's perspective in that argument and realize it is widely held, I don't fully agree. It's been my experience that families who shelter their kids from common maladies like substance abuse ultimately produce adults with fewer substance problems. I believe you'll find research to support that also. While some uptick in use and abuse may occur in adolescence even among teens from restrictive families, the real issue is how things turn out in the long run when the teens become adults. In that regard, I've got to side with the "sheltering" families.
The issue comes down to this: When a door is opened for a child or teenager, it is a lot easier to go through that door. In families where there is no substance use or very responsible use, kids tend to up with those same patterns. When you get beyond that, the fruit - forbidden or not - doesn't fall very far from the tree. Substance-abusing adults are often following a pattern they learned at home. Obviously there are many exceptions in both directions. I've seen children of severe alcoholics swear off substance abuse for life, and I've seen teetotaling homes produce severe addicts. But if you have to make a prediction, I think you'll find it goes the other way.
Regardless of whether you believe in sheltering or not, there can be no doubt that the AUTHORITATIVE parent usually comes out on top. Parents who behave in a respectable manner, show consistency and integrity in word and action and exercise referent power (the power that comes from kids wanting to be like their parents) are most likely to influence their kids. There's no source of influence greater than that, and for families - religious or not - the best example is always the walk we walk, not the talk we talk.
Next week: Are the holidays time for a break or just more stress?
- Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Kelly Kelin is a senior at Free State High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.