I was sitting at my computer yesterday afternoon, pondering this week’s blog topic when it came to me in the form of my oldest son at my office door:

Noah:  Mom!  What would you say if I asked you if Chase and I could buy Grand Theft Auto??
Me:  I’d say I’m not a fan.
Noah:  Okay.  What would you say if I asked you if Chase and I could buy the greatest video game ever sold?
Me:  You mean Grand Theft Auto?
Noah:  Uh… yeah.
Me:  Sigh.  Let me ask you this:  Does this game have ANY redeeming qualities?
Noah:   Why yes, it does.  It tells the story of three characters, each with diverse backgrounds and motives. And the story arc is quite complex.  Oh – and you can also go parachuting, mountain biking and jet skiing!
Me:  Kinda like camp.
Noah: Yeah!  Except more violent.
Me:  And these three characters are criminals?
Noah:  Yes.  But Chase and I totally promise that we won’t become criminals.
Me:  Good to know.  How about drug use and sex?
Noah:  Yes.  Those are both options in the game but I can tell you right now that I BELIEVE it is the player’s choice whether you do any of those things.  And I won’t – and Chase absolutely won’t.
Me:  I don’t like these games that are demeaning to women.
Noah:  Mom!  Ben H. has the game!!!

And with that, Noah had played his trump card.  Every red-blooded American teenager has the friend who can do no wrong, who has the parents whose judgment you respect, and who you know is destined for greatness.  If THAT kid has Grand Theft Auto, then it can’t be THAT bad, right?

Me:  I’ll take it under advisement.  I won’t say yes today.  But I’m not saying no either.

Noah wisely looked at this as a step in the right direction and retreated quickly, leaving me with my thoughts about yet another parental decision about how fast my kid should grow up…. another decision I wish I didn’t have to make.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to raising our kids.  While I would give myself higher marks on empathy and compassion, I know I fall woefully short on discipline and rules. Lucky for all of us, I haven’t been faced with very many instances where lines need to drawn.  But now that Noah is in 10th grade, I’m getting out the chalk pencil Sharpie because I know this is only the beginning  of these tough choices.  But despite my desperately wanting to do the right thing  for my kids, the same question remains:

Do you better teach your child by telling him what to do, or letting him do it and figure it out for himself?

This question is not as easily answered as when they were eight or nine years old.  Back then, they weren’t developed enough to make decisions and deal with consequences.  But it is getting harder and harder each day to impart my views of the world onto my growing children.  How will they ever form opinions for themselves if mine are the only ones they are allowed to have?  Would I prefer that my boys stay clear of Grand Theft Auto?  YES.  Is making that decision for them by forbidding it going to make them better men someday?  PROBABLY NOT.

I think my answer to this question will vary as these thresholds into adulthood appear more and more often.  And much of it will have to do with the consequences of my guys making a bad decision.  Letting them decide whether or not to get into a car with a driver that has been drinking is not negotiable.  I’ll make that one easy for them.  They are forbidden.  But the more I can let them cross those lines into the grownup land that is awaiting them – right there out in the open – with my permission (though not always my blessing), the better prepared they will be to make good decisions once they are permanently on the other side.  And I also think it gives them the option of crossing back when things feel too heavy, knowing that I will welcome them with open arms.

So Noah doesn’t know it yet, but I’ll probably let him buy the game.  If it’s like any of the other “best games ever” he will tire of it within a month. And perhaps it will be a good platform for a discussion about the complex story arc and morality.  If Grand Theft Auto is aiming to steal another piece of my boys’ childhoods, I sure as hell am going to repo a piece or two back in the name of positive growth.

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