I'd like to start out by saying I'm no saint. I've done a thing or two I'd rather my momma not know about, and if you come by the newsroom on a Friday near deadline during high school football season you can hear me use some colorful words that my momma probably doesn't know I use, at least regularly.
Having said that, I've always at least tried to behave myself, especially in public. Today's youth don't seem to be learning that lesson.
Separate studies this week demonstrate that what our young people watch and listen to has an impact on how they behave.
One study, led by a Wake Forest professor, showed teens who watched violent wrestling shows are more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior, carry a weapon or start a fight at school. Particularly interesting was the fact that girls were more likely to be violent than boys.
The other study, led by the Rand Corp., reported that the dirtier the lyrics in the music to which teens listen, the more likely the teens are to have sex sooner.
I'm strongly opposed to censorship of almost any kind. As long as you aren't hurting anyone else or spending my tax dollars on it, then you should be able to watch it, read it, listen to it, dance to it, sing it, paint it, draw it, write it or whatever, and if you don't like it then change the channel or turn the page.
But we make these decisions as adults. Children don't have the wisdom to make the right choices about what they watch, read and listen to. With it increasingly affecting their behavior, it is more important that parents take the time to know to what their children are being exposed.
Now I'm not here to discuss what's appropriate and what's not. You know the maturity level of your child better than I do, and what you do in your own house is your business. However, when you unleash your kid on the rest of us, you need to take some responsibility for how he's going to act.
Witness a recent trip to the grocery store: Two teens in line in front of me were discussing a rash one of them had on his stomach. They asked the cashier (an older woman) if she thought the product they'd picked up would work. She said no, they should get some Benadryl. One of them said he would go get some and asked if we could we wait a second while he did.
Innocent enough, right? Well, yes, except this is a little closer to how the episode I just described took place:
Teen 1 (laughing): Dude, you're, like, all broke out and @#$%.
Teen 2: #%&@ you, dude. I know, I've gotta fix this @%!#. (Then, to the cashier, while showing his rash.) Do you think that stuff will make this stop &*%#ing itching?
Cashier (annoyed, offended look on her face, but still trying to help): No, what you need is some Benadryl. It's right over there. (Pointing at the medicine aisle.)
Teen 2: It'll make it $#%&ing stop?
Cashier (now looking very offended): It should help.
Teen 2: Dude, that's what I %&$*ing need. I'm gonna get that. (Takes off running toward the medicine aisle.)
Teen 1 (loudly): Dude, hurry the @$%& up.
Now, perhaps I didn't get all the f-bombs in the appropriate place, but that's because they were falling all around me so fast I didn't have time to count them.
I hear more young people talking this way in public, interchanging these words easily with any other adjective or adverb. And I'm not talking about bars and tractor pulls here. I'm talking about restaurants and stores and gas stations.
I'm not going to get all bent out of shape when someone talks that way at a beer joint at 2 a.m. But when it's at the next table on Saturday afternoon while I'm eating dinner with my girlfriend and her kids, then I just want to start washing mouths out with soap.
Which brings me back to my momma.
I was pretty mad about something the other day and I was venting to her ... and one of those bad words slipped out.
I couldn't believe what I'd said, and I couldn't apologize fast enough. Momma, bless her, let it go.
Later, when I wasn't mad anymore, I got to thinking about it and how embarrassed I was to have said that in front of her and how I was glad I wasn't 10 and didn't get my mouth washed out. Then, I wondered, why didn't she say anything more?
I quickly answered my own question: Because she knows I know better, that it happened because I was angry and that I was truly sorry when I apologized. And I wasn't doing it in public. Because she taught me better than that.
These are lessons I wish Teen 1 and Teen 2 and all the other teens who could make sailors blush would learn.
Lessons I fear they aren't learning because they often aren't being taught in the first place.
E-mail Nate McCullough at email@example.com. Have any thoughts about this column? Share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters should be no more than 200 words and are subject to approval by the publisher. Letters may be edited for style and space requirements. Please sign your name and provide an address and a daytime telephone number. Address letters for publication to: Letters to the Editor, Gwinnett Daily Post, P.O. Box 603, Lawrenceville, GA 30046-0603. The fax number is 770-339-8081.