Wes: I hadn’t intended to write about Obama’s inaugural speech, largely because I hadn’t expected him to comment on parenting or teenagers. However, the new president actually touched on two of our frequent fliers issues — the radical power of parenting and the social contract of personal responsibility.
Obama compared the heroism of a firefighter and the kindness of a stranger in flooded New Orleans to “a parent’s willingness to nurture a child.” Those who aren’t parents might consider that a bit of hyperbole. Those who are should know it is not. There’s absolutely nothing more important to the recovery and betterment of our society than the quality of parenting we afford our children and teenagers. There is no higher calling and no greater meaning for those who choose this path. Which brings us to the key element of parenting — free choice.
It is fundamentally a CHOICE to become a parent. Unfortunately, this idea has become synonymous with the debate about abortion. It is thus a rallying cry for some and something dreadful for others. Instead, I’m proposing that the real decision about parenting needs to come before an unwanted pregnancy, before one begins having sex and perhaps even before one is considering having sex.
To be the heroic parent that Obama proposes, young people have to make a fundamental choice to understand and commit themselves fully to that role. In doing so, they must realize that as volunteers, parents make a free and intentional decision to surrender a big chunk of who we are in order to gain something larger and ultimately more meaningful. And if that decision was not made before a pregnancy, then one must either make it affirmatively and be thankful for the impending life change or choose another path, of which there are several. This is just one of those decisions that Obama refers to in “a new era of responsibility” that emphasizes a social duty that we “seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.”
Among the many parents who did not actively choose this role, many have risen to the occasion and done just fine. These may be the greatest parent heroes — those that found themselves in an unexpected and tough spot and found a way to succeed. But others seem to have a perpetual sense of resentment toward their children for derailing their own youth, leaving those kids with an odd and imprecise sense of having not been wanted. Still others do not let their children hold them back, continuing the self-centeredness of adolescence well into adulthood, while their own children shrivel on the vine. We don’t need Obama’s observations to tell us that this hasn’t turned out very well.
But we may be seeing a new era of cooperation surrounding his presidency that might help us turn this and other troubling tides. As but one relevant example, there is word of early movement between the pro-choice and pro-life movements to join forces and work to reduce the unwanted pregnancy rate. This has been proposed before and rarely come to fruition — but imagine how much better it would be if the idea of “choice” became about personal responsibility and decision-making, and not political spin? Imagine if we actually found a way to help young people exercise authentic choice and personal responsibility up front. Hero parents, you’ve been recognized. Lets hope we can add to your ranks by encouraging young people toward the freedom of choice that is the foundation of the heroic parent.
Kelly: There are many people out there who firmly believe that teenagers have little if any thought on any aspect of the United States’ government, legislation and democracy. Our opinions tend to be set aside in this world of the upperclassmen. Yes, perhaps we should first learn our place in society and grow to have a few more years under our belt, but that still doesn’t prevent us from having an opinion and idea about America politics.
It has been a week since President Obama took the oath of office, and as heard in his speech a lot of commitments were made and will hopefully be kept. As adults alongside teenagers, families, co-workers and friends, we will struggle in some shape or form and be impacted by the direction of the economy. Currently our faith and hopes rely upon change.
While some may not be happy about President Obama’s victory, many can agree it is time for a change. As a country, we may continue to rely on the government to help us through these tough economic times. Beyond this, there is another change that must occur, one that we cannot rely on the government to fix. This change must occur within ourselves.
In Obama’s speech, he stated, “In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned.” I feel as we teenagers move into adulthood, we tend to lose sight of our passion, our ambition. We forget what makes us strive for greatness. We stop setting and reaching goals. We make sacrifices and put everything on the back burner.
Don’t forget your dreams. Never say, “I can’t.” The only one who can prevent you from succeeding is yourself. And remember, to be a great nation doesn’t fully rely on one’s individual progression; rather, focus on how as a nation we can continue to progress for the better. We need to stop waiting around for change. Seize opportunities, take risks, do well for your country. If you want change, make it happen.
Next Week: We’ll return to the issue of post-senior summer.