On January 19, 2023, a bomb threat was discovered scrawled on a bathroom wall at Newnan High School, Newnan. GA. School officials do what they do when such a threat is discovered and law enforcement did what they do when a crime has been committed.
A few days ago, a 16-year-old student was arrested and charged with terroristic threats. A police department spokesman urged parents to talk to their children about the consequences of making such threats, “either written or verbal.”
In other words, try to warn your children not to do something stupid that could alter the course of their lives.
When I was a teenager, there were plenty of times when I was stupid. I think parents just assume that their kids are mature, that they understand right from wrong, that they will always make good decisions, that they can always be trusted, and that they “get it,” whatever it is that parents think they should get. If parents have that assumption, then they are living in a fool’s paradise — at least many of them.
I was a youth pastor in two different churches in two different cities early in my ministry. I can’t count the number of times that kids, both boys and girls, did or said things that got them in much more trouble than they bargained for. As a pastor, I saw the same.
While most kids are good kids, even the best behaved are not experienced, not as mature as they think they are, and don’t readily recognize the dangers they place themselves in. When my three sons were teenagers and I didn’t let them do everything they wanted, I could expect to hear, “You don’t trust me!” My response? “Damn right.” Trust has to be earned and, once violated, it’s not always easy to get it back.
I remember the 14-year-old church kid who pulled a knife on a fellow classmate in a restroom. When the juvenile judge asked him if he did the deed, at the advice of his lawyer, he lied.
I stood up and asked to approach the bench. The judge gave me fifteen minutes to talk to him and his father. When the lawyer objected to my advice, I told him to shut up. The kid did it. He told me he did it. Worse, he told several other kids he did it — another stupid decision.
The judge of course knew all this. Judges hate to be lied to. It ended with the kid admitting his guilt and receiving probation instead of being sent to the reformatory. I assumed the lawyer still got paid.
Years ago, I took my wife and children to Panama City Beach, FL. We were coming back from dinner one dark night and cars were everywhere. There on the side of the road were three girls in two-piece swimsuits and none could have been over fifteen. They were sticking their thumbs out trying to hitch a ride during college spring break. Where were their parents? What parent would allow that to happen?
I never allowed my kids to go to spring break unsupervised. Never. Even when church parents allowed their teenage kids to go. My sons asked once why, if it was so dangerous, did the other parents allow their kids to go. I said, “Because they’re stupid!”
I could tell another two dozen stories of kids who, in their formative years, did or said things that either did or could have cost them greatly and ruined their lives. And what did most of the parents say when confronted by teachers or law enforcement? “My child wouldn’t do such things. I know them too well.”
Ah, denial, it is such a comfort — until we find out that our kids would, and did, such things after all.
Fortunately for me, my father was the kind of man who tried to teach his sons right from wrong and believed the teachers when I did something I was punished for. In my high school days one of the things that a number of the boys did was to “streak across the Hammond.” What this meant is that, after dark, they would go near the Hammond Memorial Bridge in Sullivan County, Tennessee, that spanned a river, strip naked, and run across the heavily traveled bridge.
Several times, my “friends” tried to recruit me to go, and I refused. Never considered it. Why? Because if the sheriff’s department had picked us up and taken us home (which they often did in those days) my dad would have beat my butt to the bone, I would have never driven a car for the rest of high school, he would have removed me from the football team, and I would still be grounded even though he has been gone for nearly 27 years. And, truthfully, I thought it was stupid.
I did plenty of other stupid things, some of which my parents never knew about, some of which I got by with, and some I paid the price for (Sorry, Dobyns-Bennett High School English teachers. I really did learn not to end a sentence with a preposition). And my sons did their share as well. Most of those times, we are able to survive our stupidity, learn from it, and grow in experience and maturity. But not always.
Sometimes, underage kids drink and drive and kill themselves or kill an innocent family. Sometimes a thirteen-year-old boy orders a drug on SnapChat that is laced with fentanyl and takes it and dies, as happened recently. Sometimes kids do things, like write a bomb threat on the wall of a school, that has the potential to derail a life that has barely begun.
Parents aren’t perfect. And even if they did everything totally right, kids have free will and sometimes choose unwisely. Sometimes parents ask themselves, “Where did I do wrong?” or they feel crushing guilt when things do go off the rails. Most parents that I have met have done, and are doing, the best they could. I, too, have blamed myself for the actions of my sons when they were younger.
Kids have their own society apart from yours and you may not know them as well as you think. So, talk to them even when they do not want you to. Use teaching moments, like the incident at Newnan High School, to impart wisdom and counsel. Let them earn your trust, regardless of what other parents do with their kids.
They might resent your watchfulness now and might even say they hate you. They might even mean it at the time. But as they grow and mature, they will, hopefully as I did, realize that you helped keep them from unrecoverable troubles. Just don’t be stupid.
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]