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accountability problem

As I’ve matured into adulthood there are two things I’ve struggled to grasp when it comes to the unfair situations that often occur in life in which there aren’t any easy answers. The first being that sometimes an accident is just that and it isn’t always someone’s fault. The second being when it comes to guiding children through life to make safe and sound decisions, where does parenting end and outside influences begin? I often talk about the parenting paranoia that all parents encounter, and it seems for my generation it might be much worse. My parents weren’t confronted with 320 parenting blogs solely dedicated to the dangers of vaccines. In the seventies, there wasn’t social media routinely reminding them about all of the black youth around the country who are victims of gun violence. Parenthood has given me plenty of basic stuff to obsess over in the past two years, and if my generation of thirty-somethings raising both toddlers and teens thought they were doing a decent job of keeping their kids on the straight and narrow, parenting guilt can be found only a few headlines away.

There’s Timothy Piazza, the Penn State undergrad who died as a result of a hazing ritual at one of the university’s fraternity houses. Piazza was given lethal doses of alcohol that caused him to fall down a flight of stairs at a party hosted by Beta Theta Pi, the fraternity that now faces charges in his death along with the school for criminal inaction. Court proceedings went underway this week and the Piazza family are preparing themselves to hear detailed testimony of the happenings of the night, some which were documented via text and video. In an interview, father Jim Piazza briefly shared his thoughts on the party attendees’ lack of action to help his son:

“They fed him lethal doses of alcohol and they killed him, and then they treated him like a rag doll, like road kill, they slapped him around, threw water on him, one kid punched him.”

Then there’s Davis Cripe. Cripe was a 16-year-old teen from South Carolina who died after consuming a caffeinated soda, energy drink and latte over a short period of time. The state coroner reported that ingesting so much caffeine over a two-hour time span caused a “cardiac event” resulting in the young man’s death. In a public statement, Richland county coroner Gary Watts expressed that parents should educate their families about the dangers of caffeine overdose, but was clear the drinks were not allowed in his household:

“These drinks can be very dangerous. I’m telling my friends and family don’t drink them.”

“The purpose here today is not to slam Mountain Dew, not to slam cafe lattes, or energy drinks. But what we want to do is to make people understand that these drinks — this amount of caffeine, how it’s ingested, can have dire consequences. And that’s what happened in this case.”

In addition to these unfortunate headlines, others have included babies who died after being crushed by IKEA furniture, Facebook live suicides and moldy sippy cups and bath toys. At this point I want to fill up my refrigerator with water, homeschool my child, never send her to college and pad any area in my house where the furniture isn’t bolted to a stud in the wall. But I am quickly reminded of the lessons I’ve learned about those gray areas in life: Bad things happen and sometimes there isn’t someone to blame.

As a parent, I sympathize with anyone who has to experience the loss of a child. It’s not the natural order of things and whether you’re parenting style resembles Frank Gallagher’s of the show Shameless or The Little Mermaid’s King Triton, the best parenting styles in the world won’t guarantee your child won’t grow up and be an unfortunate consequence of their own decision making or that of others. As much as I’d like to think it’s me and my baby against the world, I often wonder where the lawsuits end and the accountability begins. I witnessed the Piazza family in tears on the Today Show earlier this week as they talked about how their son always made good choices and they worried about him joining a fraternity in the first place. We all want to say we are raising are kids to be strong, to fight peer pressure and to walk away when things are wrong and help those in need. But in reality, people make bad decisions, people fail to trust their gut, people act out of character when they want to be accepted or liked. Does it excuse those party attendees who walked past what they thought may have been just Piazza’s passed out body? No, but should they face criminal charges?  I don’t know, but a court of laws says they should.

Or what about the IKEA dressers that kids were climbing and being pinned under a few years back?  Comments sections were filled with how parents need to better supervise their kids and harness the furniture. Others said it was IKEA’s responsibility to issue warning upon warning and do everything short of coming to customer’s houses to arrange and secure furniture. I found myself thinking, “My mother never needed this many warning labels to get me through life safely. Where there wasn’t a warning label there was a behind whooping that came courtesy of me almost killing myself from doing something I wasn’t supposed to or my mom’s Isotoner sharply turning the corner and landing on my ass.”  I think want most of us want is a full-proof way to ensure our kids never have to face any harm. And while I agree there’s no substitute for an involved parent, I also can testify that unfortunate events happen in life and sometimes there isn’t anyone to blame or sue.

It doesn’t always have to be about tragic events either. I’ve witnessed friends proceed to storm through parent-teacher conferences just to curse out every single teacher for why their child’s report card is rocking straight D’s. Because it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with their child’s performance in class? All the teachers have to be biased, right? Those types of parents are also the ones who blame Rihanna for their child’s premature sexual awakening and point the finger at rap music when their child shows a hint of violent tendencies. Do I think the world is filled with influences that aren’t the best for your child and folks that don’t have the best intentions. Yes, but I also believe it’s the parent’s job to censor their child’s world for what’s appropriate for them at any given time and to provide context for the the things that they can’t. Maybe Rihanna might want to consider her 15-year-old fans the next time she decides to twerk on Drake in some booty shorts, but just maybe she’s a grown woman living her life and not responsible for raising your child. In addition, when a child witnesses a parent place blame on all the bad things in life on everyone but themselves, they learn to place their own success and well-being in the hands of everyone else but themselves.

Do I think today’s parent’s have an accountability problem?  I’m not sure, but what I do know is that I am setting myself up for a lot of heartbreak and frustration if I go through life thinking my child’s happiness and well-being is the world’s top priority. I never want my daughter to be victim but I do want to prepare her or the harsh reality that from coed, to colleague, to corporation: Most people will not sacrifice their convenience or come up to make sure she gets through life safely.  I want her to be able to assess the part she plays in any situation and what she can do to control the outcome. I believe it’s my job as a mother to make sure she understands that she can’t always control what she encounters, but she can educate and empower herself to know how she should respond.

Toya Sharee is a Health Resource Specialist who has a  passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about  everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.

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