There’s a lot of pressure to being a good kid all the time. I know because I was good once. And a kid.
Enter Andrew, my future stepson and budding scofflaw. Andrew is the epitome of being good. He makes good grades. He reads to his grandmother. He helps little old ladies cross the street. He saves kittens from burning buildings. Well, I’m sure he would save kittens if the need arose.
So, it was a real shocker, and a little amusing, last week when, two days before his 16th birthday, he made a bad choice. I’m not going to further embarrass him or tip off authorities by telling you what he did, but it was a bad choice. It was a bad choice that felt so good that he did it again the next day. And he would have done it sooner, he confessed, if he’d been able. He had thought about doing it. He wanted to do it. And when the opportunity presented itself, he couldn’t resist. Andrew, the rebel.
His mother, of course, was not amused and was determined to mete out the appropriate discipline. She has a master’s degree in counseling, so I don’t envy Andrew in that regard. That’s like getting caught speeding when your dad is the judge. You’re going to get what’s coming.
To Andrew’s credit, he made full disclosure and accepted the consequences, which included fessing up to other family members.
I’ve always believed that kids want boundaries and discipline. They don’t want to be beaten or punished unfairly, but they want to know where the limits are. Sometimes, you find the limit by pushing it.
Andrew is still a good kid, and undoubtedly will continue to be a good kid and will probably still make an occasional bad choice wittingly or not. The important thing is that a boundary was firmly reconfirmed and nobody got hurt. He’ll make more mistakes; he just won’t make that one again.
And for those who might be thinking that it’s cruel for his future stepfather to tell the world that Andrew screwed up, it’s something that we talked about beforehand. It’s like some kind of weird badge of honor for him that people know. Maybe it just takes some of the pressure off of being good. “It’s all over school already, anyway,” he said. Since everyone he knows already knows about it, it’s no big deal to him that people he doesn’t know also know about it.
As invigorating as it can be to make a bad choice, truth is liberating. Plus, it’s manning up. Owning up to a mistake and taking responsibility are part of what separate the men from the boys.
I don’t think anyone is proud of the poor choice that was made, but there have many proud moments since then. You can’t measure untested character, and I think his has emerged intact.
• David Porter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.