Preachers' kids question 'wild and rebellious' stereotype

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When Sarah Jakes, the daughter of  the widely-recognized Bishop T.D. Jakes, became pregnant at age 13, many believed her actions reinforced the stigma that preachers’ kids are wild, rebellious and defiant.

But Jakes does not think there is any truth behind this perception. Instead, she says it is a stereotype that, like all stereotypes, unfairly paints a group of people with broad strokes.

“I think that we are just like any other child or adolescent but we are placed on pedestals where we are supposed to act a certain way,” Jakes told theGrio. “But the reality is that no one cares when the dentist’s child has a cavity, or when the doctor’s child has a cold, but when us preacher’s kids go through something, it’s a huge shock — but life doesn’t really spare its rod on any of us.”

Rebellious or rational behavior?

Jakes’ sentiments reflect the thoughts of many preachers’ children who say they are often held to high expectations enforced both by their parents and the public at large.

The pressure put upon them is seen by many as a catalyst for outlandish and wild behavior — the sort of bad conduct that is now glorified on reality television shows like Lifetime’s Preachers’ Daughters.

In hindsight, Jakes admits her actions could be considered rebellious but she says it was also the result of a great deal of peer-pressure and low self-esteem. She openly discusses these experiences in her latest book Lost & Found: Finding Hope in the Detours of Life.

And while bad behavior may be the expected conduct for some, it is certainly not reflective of the reality for all preachers’ kids.

For instance, Ashley Sharpton, the daughter of the trailblazing activist Rev. Al Sharpton, is just one example of someone who has defied the “bad girl” image often associated with clergymen’s children.

Sharpton spent her childhood in the limelight, which allowed her to quickly learn how to adapt and conduct herself in the midst of the endless attention.

As the daughter of a reverend — who is also one of the nation’s most notable and outspoken media and civil rights figures — Sharpton says she and her family have almost always been under the microscope.

But with that attention came also constant scrutiny from religious and non-religious folks alike who often expected the Sharpton family — and families like theirs — to be pillars of perfection.

“Growing up as a preacher’s child has shaped me into the young woman that I am today,” Sharpton told theGrio. “Besides my faith, growing up as a [preacher’s kid] made me strong, opinionated but also compassionate…and it helped to prepare me for a busy lifestyle. Being Al Sharpton’s daughter just makes that more intense.”

All one in the same 

The implication that preachers’ kids are supposed to maintain certain moral standards only intensifies the ridicule and shame they receive if they fail to do so.

“There’s a little truth to every stereotype,” Sharpton says. “All preacher’s kids are not rebellious, some are saints, but it’s a bigger deal when [preachers’ kids] rebel. Since you are the preacher’s child, you are assumed to be holier than thou.”

“The difficult part of being a preacher’s kid is you suffer alone. You don’t want to share your dirty laundry because the preacher isn’t supposed to have any,” Sharpton added.

For Jakes and Sharpton, these expectations are upheld by the public more than their parents. Both women admit that their families did not pressure them to behave or act in a certain way and instead provided them with the opportunity to make their own decisions.

“My parents wanted me to be happy and comfortable. They never put their grief of on us,” Sharpton said. “The only pressure from them was to be the best I could be.”

The ‘double standard is unproductive’ 

These same sentiments are reflected by Justin Rhodes, a 30-year-old preacher at Trinidad Baptist Church in Washington D.C. Rhodes was raised in the church and was heavily influenced by his father, who is also a preacher at the same establishment.

“As the child of a preacher, I take issue with the stereotype that all preachers’ kids are rebellious and as some would say ‘even worse than all the other kids.’  Some of us do rebel in various ways, but that is certainly not the case for all of us or even most of us,” Rhodes told theGrio.

“The things preachers’ kids do receive greater scrutiny because of the upbringing and backgrounds we come from and the positions our parents hold; thus we are unfairly expected to live up to a standard that other children are not held to.  This double standard, like others, is unproductive,” he added.

The double standard Rhodes references also stands as a message that sheds light on the expectations society places on the behavior of such children with little understanding of the effects this may have on them.

“The easiest way to begin breaking down [these] barriers is by seeking understanding,” Rhodes says. “I believe it starts with actually getting to know us, not just making judgments and determinations based on what is thought to be known about us.”

“Once that happens, my hope would be that people would begin to see that we’re just like them.”

Follow Lilly Workneh on Twitter @Lilly_Works