Dear Mrs. Hall: We need to chat

Hey friends…
I don’t usually get involved in these “my thoughts on your post” kind of things. But since I happen to have two lovely young adult daughters, I kinda took this post personally. You may disagree with me… but I wanted to share my heart on this.

Dear Mrs. Hall:

I don’t know you. You don’t know me. Friends of mine with young sons posted the link to your blog post. I read it. Said, “huh, well I think she’s wrong. To-MAY-to, to-MAH-to, let’s move on.”

Except that friends have been posting it all day and cheering you on. And I said, “Huh. Well, I get that moms want their boys to make good decisions. And to help them make good decisions, sometimes they get a little over-protective. Po-TAY-to, po-TAH-to. Whatevs.”

But then it continued to bother me, and I figured out why. I realized that I was a little put off by your post chastising young women for their social media pictures. The photos you described were ones that you discovered while you looked at their social media accounts — something you do regularly with your kids — perusing the pictures and videos that are posted by their friends online. You noted:

“We have teenage sons, and so naturally there are quite a few pictures of you lovely ladies to wade through. Wow – you sure took a bunch of selfies in your pajamas this summer! Your bedrooms are so cute! Our eight-year-old daughter brought this to our attention, because with three older brothers who have rooms that smell like stinky cheese, she notices girly details like that.

I think the boys notice other things. For one, it appears that you are not wearing a bra.

I get it – you’re in your room, so you’re heading to bed, right? But then I can’t help but notice the red carpet pose, the extra-arched back, and the sultry pout.”

Ah yes. Duck lips, I believe we call it. But really – going braless was an issue? Was it because you could see her nipples? Maybe she needs a thicker bra. Or a warmer room. Sultry poses? Goofing off and being silly, perhaps? Are you sure she was trying to be a siren and cause your sons to crash on the rocks?

One of the standards that you mentioned in your blog post was this:

Girls shouldn’t post pictures in poses which are provocative.

That’s fair. But what is “provocative” might I ask? I think it is in the eye of the beholder. You put up a picture of your four, lovely children in their bathing suits. The young men’s suits were all below their navels. Well below their navels. In fact, you could see their tan lines. Isn’t that a little too sexy for a post on purity? And they were making “muscle” poses – yes, in fun. I get that. However, based on the blog comments, I wasn’t alone in thinking that perhaps you missed the point that what is “sexaaay” for the goose is “sexaaaay” for the gander.

You said,

“Did you know that once a male sees you in a state of undress, he can’t ever un-see it? You don’t want the Hall boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you?”

Do you think the picture of your boys in their bathing suits will just be deleted from their female schoolmates’ minds? That once they walk into school in their uniforms or their Tshirts and jeans, that they won’t remember pictures from this summer? And for the record, I think this is a bit over-stated. What I think you are suggesting that only males are titillated by the visual. I would suggest that you are wrong. If not, then why would females spend so much time pouring over pictures in magazines? Why do they notice when someone is hawt?

You don’t give room for teens and young adults to grow up.

There’s no room for grace. Jeff VanVonderen in his book Families Where Grace is the Place talks about the need for learning the difference between our job and God’s job. He says,

“God’s job is to fix and to change. Our job is to depend, serve, and equip. This is the work of grace… God and you can build anew with the people you love, relationships that let in fresh air and light.”

He goes on to talk about premarital sex, which I think is what you are worried about by your hard and fast rules…

“When a teenager becomes involved in premarital sex, is it just because of raging hormones? Is it simply a matter of ignoring the rules? Or could it be an attempt to feel loved and accepted, important, or not alone? I think so. …They need to be reminded that they are unconditionally loved.”

You wrote:

And so, in our house, there are no second chances, ladies. If you want to stay friendly with the Hall men, you’ll have to keep your clothes on, and your posts decent. If you try to post a sexy selfie, or an inappropriate YouTube video – even once – you’ll be booted off our on-line island.

I see. In doing so, you remove any possibility of being able to speak into these young women’s lives. You put them in the category of “forbidden secret.” You mark them as “undesirable” or as “forbidden fruit.”

Do you not remember your own teen years? Forbidding something does not mean that it is going to make it go away. Just because your children can’t see these photos or videos on their devices, those which you deem objectionable, doesn’t mean they can’t see them on their friend’s computers/smart phones.

If your children are friends with these young women, I would assume that you could possibly live in the same general area as their parents. Have you talked to their mothers? Have you sent them an email? Have you called them? While many parents do not have a social media review as your family does on a regular basis, there is something about parenting “in the village” that is very, very helpful. If you are pro-active instead of re-active, you can offer more than one chance.

It may be that you have been rejected for being “too strict” but by making things so iron-clad, you have shut down what could be an ongoing, healthy conversation.

You state that “We hope to raise men with a strong moral compass, and men of integrity don’t linger over pictures of scantily clad high-school girls.”

Iron-clad, no-exceptions means that if someone grows and changes, you won’t know. You won’t be around to encourage them, to remind them. You won’t be among the trusted women who can talk frankly with them about their wardrobe choices.

You are obsessing on the exterior and are not giving your sons practice at living with integrity.

They will be heading to college soon. Very soon. Sooner than you can possibly imagine. Even if they go to the most restrictive Christian college, there is still temptation and sexual tension. By not helping them wrestle with it — while they are in your home — you are going to set them up for some hard days when they are on their own. Perhaps you are a family who does not send your children away to college. Even if they are on a community college campus, they will meet up with men and women who are very different from the standards they are learning from you. And instead of being comfortable talking to them and gaining an understanding, you have a hard wall of NO.

Life does not work this way.

Even if you clean out every objectionable image in their social media files, the world has many more staring them down. I used to take my children through the “no candy, no tabloids” aisle at the grocery store when I checked out. And then I discovered that the magazines (non-tabloids) had low-cut, sexily-posed models on the front. I realized how low-cut when one daughter said, “Mommy, is that a nursing top?”

The images of misused sexuality are everywhere. To teach our children good judgement and a “strong moral compass,” we have to teach them to first see the men and women around them as human beings who are sexual, not sexual beings who are human. You can’t do that if you try to install electronic blinders on them.

What is the best way to encourage the personal character of our teens and young adults?

Is it by judging them? Ignoring them? Refusing them entry into our Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr/Instagram lives? I don’t think so. You’re removing yourself from the conversation.

Here’s what I would love for you to reinforce to my daughters, actually to any mother’s daughters:

You are made in the image of God. You were created to make a difference. You are beautiful. You are strong. You are bright and caring and have much to offer this world. You are more than the clothes you wear or the make-up you put on your face. You are more than a test score, a percentile or an athletic achievement. The number of pounds on the scale mean nothing. You are loved by your parents, but even more by God. Go chase down the dreams you have on your heart. And don’t let comments about your outside make you think there’s nothing inside.

One last thought. Talk to your sons about outward images and inner self-control. Make them own their sexuality and their choices. Do not blame or suggest that any mistakes they make are because of how the women around them dress themselves. Teach them that clothing is not a “message” — it is a cultural trapping. It is not an “invitation” to do anything other than respect and respond in accordance with their own personal guidelines. This is a shared responsibility. One that young men AND women should take seriously.

I’m glad we had this little chat. To be honest, I almost didn’t post this essay. After all, it is easy enough to just roll my eyes and move on. I’m not even ‘outraged’ or ‘mad’. I am frankly a little sad. Because you are missing an opportunity to become a mentor and surrogate mom to young men and women who would otherwise never cross your path. And they are missing out on getting to know you and to understand your point of view.

 

 

ADDENDUM: Friday, September 6, 2013:

Mrs. Hall took out all of the pictures of her boys on the beach (really) because of comments from readers and bloggers. So you can disregard my comments about boy tan-lines etc. But the rest I still hold as true…

Here’s her comment on her blog update and changed photographs:

“Readers, two days ago I wrote this post for my normal audience, which is usually very small. That said, I included recent pictures of my kids at the beach, and many new readers found that to be a grave lack of discernment, considering the topic.  I agree, and have replaced them with different photos than the original post. Thank you for your counsel.”

12 thoughts on “Dear Mrs. Hall: We need to chat

  1. Susan says:

    Well said as usual, deb. I had some of the same thoughts when I read that post originally, but I could not have stated it so eloquently.
    Thank you.

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  2. Tricia says:

    Haven’t seen the original post, but as a mom of 3 sons I appreciate what you have to say. It’s definitely something I struggle with (wondering how or when to comment/’intervene’).

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  3. I went over and read the post. I love that she does look over what her son’s look at. A lot of parents don’t. So I am reading along and then at the pics and think hhhmmmm………double standard. I am all for modesty but it works both ways. You Deb are right on with this.

    **posted while wearing all of my clothes. lol

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  4. But still…this bit:
    “Those posts don’t reflect who you are! We think you are lovely and interesting, and usually very smart. But, we had to cringe and wonder what you were trying to do? Who are you trying to reach? What are you trying to say?”
    That’s the part that resonated with me. These are the questions I often really really really want to ask people who put their bodies on display publicly (online or otherwise) in ways that call attention to their sexuality. I think the writer’s intent was to point out to girls that when they remove most of their clothing and strike a porn star pose (even if they’re just goofing around), it’s hard for people to sort out what they’re trying to communicate. Trying to put myself into the shorts…er I mean shoes…of a guy who’s honestly trying to stay pure, I’d be frustrated if my female friend showed up in my newsfeed in attire or behavior that turned my mind toward her sexuality (ok…from what I gather, that’s not hard to do. But you know what I mean). Am I going to run out and rape her right now and then blame her for it? Uhhhh no. All I’m saying is that with the way my world is inundated with sexual images from every corner, whether I like it or not, it would be nice if my own friends would respect my desire to keep sex out of my relationships, until I’m married.
    Whether my own mother should publicly enforce this desire of mine on my behalf? I would hope that wouldn’t be necessary. (I can only imagine how humiliated the poor Hall boys must be feeling at this very moment, given their mom’s blog’s sudden explosion in popularity.)
    As for the beach images…yeah, her choice of photos for that particular post was super unfortunate. Duhhhhh, lady. But really—I do think there’s a difference between a picture of people wearing swimwear, in a public place, in a swimming environment, vs. a picture of people wearing (well she never did actually specify exactly what these girls were wearing, only what they WEREN’T wearing) whatever it is they wear in the privacy of their own bedrooms and then striking sexy poses. A more apples to apples comparison (and a more legitimate accusation of hypocrisy) would exist if she had included, let’s say, pictures of her boys in their boxers or whitey tighteys, in their bedrooms, maybe pulling the elastic waistband down just a bit a la (insert underwear ad here) and giving the camera a penetrating gaze. But still, yeah. She pretty much wrote her hecklers’ material for them.

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    • Amy, I hear you. But by blocking these young women for one offense (or -ahem – 70 times 7?) she is no longer able to influence them for good. It is very difficult to have these conversations. But it is important. And how we express our sexuality through our appearance, actions and words, whether we are male or female, matters. Sometimes we need more than one screw-up to make mid-course corrections and get it right. At least, I do.

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      • Yeah, I get that. It’s what I appreciate most about what you’ve written, and it’s a side of the issue that didn’t immediately occur to me.

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  5. val says:

    Deb, as a mom of teenage boys, I thank you for this articulate and important response to Mrs Hall. And for reminding us all of grace! Bless you – and your family!

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