Are we saying the right things? When do we discipline and when do we not? When should we control things in their lives, and when should we allow them freedom to choose on their own?
What about when they're away from us at school or with friends? What can we do to influence them when they are out of our sight? Is there anything we can really do?
There are a lot of questions. There aren't always easy answers. It's hard to know exactly what to say to best influence our children.
But, sometimes we can influence them without saying a single word.
I'm reminded of a story my brother likes to tell about a friend of his, and how that friend's mother taught him a lesson without uttering a sound.
My brother is a few years older than me, and he grew up in the era when kids listened to music by means of 8-track tapes. (I grew up listening to 8-track tapes, too, but by the time I was old enough to buy my own music, cassette tapes had pushed 8-tracks aside.) (Compact discs were just a far-flung future dream.)
When my brother was in high school, he had a friend, (we'll call him "Jed,") who drove one of the hottest sports cars around, a Rally Sport Chevy Camaro. It was a fancy new car, and had all the bells and whistles, including a state of the art 8-track stereo system.
For those of you unfamiliar with 8-track tape systems, an 8-track tape was a plastic cartridge a little longer, twice as wide, and about four times as thick as a standard iPod. To play the music on an 8-track, you would literally shove the cartridge into the rectangular hole of an 8-track tape player. The tape would go about halfway into the tape player until it connected, making a loud "ka-chunk" sound. Then it would play the music. (It would also make the "ka-chunk" sound when you pulled the 8-track cartridge out of the tape player.)
|An 8-track tape cartridge (which holds 12 songs) side-by-side with my iPod (which holds 12,000 songs.)|
One day Jed, Jed's mom, my brother, and another kid were going to some church activity. The four of them piled into Jed's car, with Jed driving, his mom in the passenger seat, and my brother and the other kid in the back seat.
Jed was a big, tough farm-boy. He was proud of his car and its stereo system, so he wanted to show it off to his friends. He grabbed an 8-track tape and shoved it into the stereo. "Ka-chunk." Unfortunately, Jed didn't ride in his car with his mom very often, and on this occasion he didn't put much thought into which 8-track album he chose to play.
It just so happened that the tape he chose to play that day was by a heavy metal group called Nazareth, and the song playing was titled "Hair of the Dog." The chorus for the song "Hair of the Dog" consists of the group repeatedly screaming the phrase, "Now you're messing with a son of a *itch," over and over and over again. [HINT: *= b]
Jed was driving down the road, stereo blaring, without a care in the world. His mother was also pretty carefree, until the lyrics of the song started to register with her. Her brow furrowed. She glanced at the stereo. She glanced at her son, who was obliviously rocking out behind the steering wheel. She calmly rolled down her window. She reached down, yanked the 8-track cartridge out of the tape player ("ka-chunk,") and threw it out the window ("Fwing!")
In one fell swoop, it was "ka-chunk," "fwing!"
Jed was flabbergasted. He started to protest, but looked at his mother and stopped. She didn't say a word. She didn't have to. All she had to do was give him one stern look. And that one, simple, silent look conveyed the entire message that she didn't need to say. That message---You know you shouldn't be listening to music like that, and you won't be listening to music like that if I have anything to say about it---came across perfectly without a single sound being uttered.
Jed didn't complain about one of his favorite albums being literally thrown out the window. He knew better. With one quick action and one simple look, she taught him a lesson that day. But, the reason that lesson was effective was because a foundation was there. Jed's mom had taught him over the years what he should and shouldn't do. So, when the time came to teach him a lesson that day, she didn't have to say a word.
And that's the lesson I take out of this story as a parent. I need to continually lay that foundation, teaching my children what's right and what's wrong, so that if I ever have to fling a proverbial 8-track tape out the window, they'll understand.
Special thanks to my neighbor Cathy for providing the 8-track tape for the picture! (Cathy has excellent taste in music.)