I was chatting with Hobo and Sthenno last night about our teenage years and there was lot of talk about missed opportunities. I had a extremely prickly stick up my ass when I was a teenager and had all kinds of ideas about not having sex, drinking or doing drugs and was convinced that it gave me the moral high ground. This, in retrospect, is a laughable worldview and I do wish I had managed to get over it an awful lot sooner. I am sure I would have had an easier time in university, particularly when it comes to relationships, had I gone out there and tried some of the world before pronouncing it unpalatable.
It is traditional for parents to tell their children not to do things. Don't drink, don't do drugs, don't have sex, and don't dress in those ratty/slutty/gangster style clothes! Teenagers, predictably, ignore these warnings and rush out to do all those things that their parents tell them not to do. I have long suspected that this is going to be a bit of a tricky spot for Elli because I don't intend to tell her to avoid any of those things. I will probably tell her to avoid fancy clothes and demanding careers and encourage disobeying the rules, eschewing clothes and experimenting with both drugs and sex; she will most likely rebel by becoming religious, taking various purity vows and becoming a lawyer.
When parents think about their younger years and the wild things they did they often make the error of forgetting that learning must include mistakes. Telling your children to not make the mistakes you did is futile because you would also be telling them to not learn the things you learned. People, it must be noted, don't learn by being lectured at but rather by wading in and getting their hands (and other parts) dirty. Mistakes and risk taking are neither futile nor a waste; they are an essential part in learning. To learn what sort of relationships are bad people must experience bad relationships. To learn how much alcohol is too much alcohol people must drink too much alcohol! To deny our children the chance to do foolish things is to deny them the wisdom that comes from experience.
To be sure there are some mistakes that are too dangerous. Getting yourself addicted, diseased or pregnant can have extreme serious long term consequences and we have a responsibility to protect our children from mistakes like these. We can't do that by denying the existence of adult joys and vices however; the only sensible defence is to teach them about risks and protection and to set a good example. That example must include acknowledgement that adults have sex, do drugs, and take risks. "Do as I say and not as I do" isn't going to cut it.