What Every Parent Can Learn from the Rachel Channing Case

Last week we saw a welcome conclusion to a messy case:  Rachel Channing, the teen who was suing her parents for financial support, moved back home.  And earlier this week, she dropped the case against her parents entirely.  It’s hard to imagine the toll this case has had and will have for many years to come on this family.  What should have been resolved behind closed doors came into the homes of every family in America. 

As the daughter of a criminal prosecutor, I know the welcome justice that can be won through litigation.  But we live in a society that is often quick to pull the trigger litigation wise – sometimes in ways that prove unhelpful.  The Channing case appears to be a prime example.  Difficult feelings were exasperated rather than addressed through the recent public proceedings.

As bystanders, we do not know the intricate logistics of the case.  Although many have spent time sharing their opinion on these matters, a better way to process it is to reflect upon what each of us can learn as parents.  Parenting is no easy task.  It bothers me that another set of parents emboldened and supported Rachel to sue her own.  A nobler enterprise is to ask ourselves how we can come together in the common task of parenting to protect and strengthen our families.  Toward that end, there are three conclusions that we can all walk away with from the case.

First, each of us is keenly aware that we live in an internet and media saturated age.  Hyper-connectivity defines our daily lives.  The advent of social media has been swift as it now trumps most other forms of communicating.  It is the relational currency we use to explore, connect, and even purchase goods.  This dependency has its perks and certainly its dangers. 

As parents, we know the importance of setting guidelines for our children’s internet exploration.  We know the importance of limiting their screen time.  We also know that hyper-connectivity brings an increased risk of vulnerability.  Privacy can be compromised and there is a loss of control over where the information flows.  We know this, but children if left untrained can remain ignorant.  The reports are unanimous that Rachel Channing was unprepared for the case’s media storm and the ramifications it would bring. 

Something that we can do as parents is to place an emphasis on educating our children about the dangers of the age we live in.  Also, we can model healthy boundaries with media and technology ourselves.  Face to face time instead of screen time accomplishes two things.  It puts media and technology in their proper place and illustrates our availability and willingness to work through sometimes tough issues together, for we will all face them.

But we can do more than educate and serve as examples as far as media and technology are concerned.  We can take another cue from the case.  Rachel Channing was suing her parents for money.  She was suing not just for independence in her frustration, but for enough money to continue her current lifestyle and fund her subsequent aims.  There is an air of entitlement suggested here, and we would be amiss to deny that it has larger resonances in our society.

Parental self-sacrifice to provide children with the best opportunities possible should be honored, not assumed.  As parents, we can work to foster a spirit of gratitude in our families.  We can reflect a thankful spirit, serve others, and steer our children away from self-centered behavior.  This is no small task.  We live in a society as Americans in which many know indulgence and value immediate self-gratification.  Our goal should be crafting a grounded perspective in our children, regardless of their situation.

Finally, it is undeniable that Rachel Channing did not like her parents’ rules.  Her decision to leave home was a direct result of it.  But we can be encouraged as parents that some rules are necessary for children to really thrive, despite the fact that they may not like them.  It is our responsibility to dole them out justly.  It is also our responsibility to genuinely listen to our children’s thoughts and feelings in conflict, although we might not necessarily change our course of action.  Ultimately, we are parents – not friends.  But I hope that the latter will be a natural byproduct of aging and time for each of us, the Channings included. 


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