Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Teenage Independence

by Anna Jones Buttimore

Was General Conference good? There's only one answer to that, of course, but I haven't seen it yet. We have tried to go several times in the past but a.) we have to go to the Stake Centre, which is a 40 minute drive away - and there's never anywhere to park when you get there, b.) the little ones get bored and play up and I usually spend the entire time in the nursery and c.) it starts at 5 p.m. here and finishes after midnight, which isn't terribly convenient in our family's schedule. Getting two peaceful hours at the computer to watch it online is also pretty difficult, so I mostly catch up with Conference by going through the May and November Ensigns with a highlighter pen, one talk a day.

My fourteen-year-old daughter, Gwenllian is at that difficult age where she's now old enough to be trusted to go shopping with her friends and spend her pocket money at the fantastic milkshake bar in Southend, but she's still got four years to go before she can start learning to drive. In other words in theory she has freedom, independence and responsibility, but in practice she has to take a bus in order to enjoy it. She doesn't like travelling by bus, but she can get a no. 1 from the end of our road and be in Southend half-an-hour later for just £2 return. At the moment she will only do it if she has her two best friends with her. We're hoping that by the time she's 18 she'll be so enamoured of bus travel that she won't want us to teach her to drive or buy her a car.

Freedom is wonderful, but sometimes it comes at too high a price. I have the free will and autonomy to do pretty well what I want, but that doesn't mean I have to do it. One thing I love about the Word of Wisdom is that it does challenge those automatic assumptions. When Gwen turns 18, she will not only be legally allowed to drive a car and vote, but also drink alcohol. Most young people do not ever stop to ask themselves whether they will want to drink alcohol once they are 18, it's just assumed that because they can do it, they will do it. But the Word of Wisdom, and many of the moral standards of the Church, question that. They say, "Yes, you have free will. You can do that if you want to. You have that choice. But do you want to? Is the sacrifice worth it?"

In a similar vein, I have taken the controversial decision to withhold permission for Gwen to have the HPV vaccination at school with the rest of the girls in her year group. This is a vaccination against the virus which causes 70% of cervical cancers. The virus is sexually transmitted, and the more partners a woman has, the more likely she is to get cervical cancer. Those who live the law of chastity, even those like me who remarry, have an almost zero percent chance of catching it.

I don't want to give my daughter the green light to be promiscuous. I don't want anything I do to be interpreted by her or anyone else as saying that such behaviour is in any way acceptable or expected. I don't want to protect her from the consequences of her choices. I have discussed this with her and explained that she needs to commit now to live the law of chastity for life, because I have not taken away the possibility of just one of the deadly diseases she could catch from breaking this sacred law. She has agreed with this decision, and understands the implications.

Am I being a bad mother? I know that plenty of others will think so. I have had my children vaccinated against every other terrible disease out there. But I like knowing that, much as my daughter might be tempted to spend all her pocket money on milkshakes in Southend, it's the thought of the smelly, lurching, uncomfortable, slow and long bus journey which is keeping her curled up by my side eating popcorn and watching America's Next Top Model.


Jennie said...

Anna you are a good and wise mother.

Cheri J. Crane said...

Ditto to what Jennie said, Anna. You've drawn your line in the sand and in my opinion, that's important these days.

Gale Sears said...

You are an fantastic mother! You are teaching correct principles. The world is a very crazy place and our young people have to make difficult decisions. Gwen is so lucky to have you in her corner.