December 6, 2018

It is Hard to Learn Responsibility Without Freedom

boy with parent

You are a parent with a son or daughter who is about to turn 16 and begin driving. Assuming that you could afford a concealable GPS tracker and monitoring plan, would you use it? Would you affix it to your kid's vehicle so you'd always know where they were and where they had been?

I'm not a parent, so I'm asking mostly out of curiosity. I'm wondering whether parents these days would view this as an indispensable tool, an invasion of privacy, or something else. I am glad that my parents did not have this technology available when I was 16, as it would have meant that I missed out on all sorts of things I enjoyed at the time. I also think that it would have been a serious blow to trust in the sense that it would have told me that they did not trust me and might have raised questions about how I could trust others.

I am also glad that my parents did not make me wear a bicycle helmet when I was a kid. I am sure I would feel differently had I fallen off my bike, hit my head, and sustained permanent damage. Had that been the case, I'd probably be very upset with them for not pushing bike helmets. But somehow, a GPS tracker seems like a very different scenario. It seems like it would have been far less about protecting me and far more about controlling me. But from a parent's perspective, I wonder if the two might not seem that different.

It was around 16 when I realized I no longer believed in gods. Up to that point, it was fairly easy for my parents to control me through a combination of fear and guilt. I still believed in Christian heaven and thought that I needed to please a god to have a chance of ending up there. Interestingly, most of what this god wanted coincided with what my parents wanted. It did not take much to manipulate me into behaving as my parents wanted, although this was certainly not without consequences. But that all begin to change around 16. It wasn't that realizing I was an atheist suddenly made me immoral; it was more that it made me free.

The combination of my rebellious teenage phase, raging hormones, newfound atheism, and the mobility that comes from a driver's license made for many fun times. My parents did attempt to exert some control at various times, but these efforts were far less effective than they had been previously. While I did manage to get into some trouble, there is relatively little I would change about this period of my life. My parents knowing where I was at every moment and being able to determine where I had been would have resulted in several major changes.

Turning 16 and becoming mobile was the most free I had ever felt up to that point in my life. This may sound strange, but it was like I finally had the freedom to make my own mistakes and learn from them. This would be eclipsed by the freedom involved in moving away from home two years later, but I really do think that having those two years made things much easier. A couple of the Christians I grew up with who had far more controlling parents did not have nearly enough of this freedom while living in their parents' homes and paid a price for it when they did move out. I think that may have something to do with the limited opportunities they had to learn responsibility.