Teenagers. Parenting in the “Gray Area”

What is the protocol for ‘tattling’ to other parents about their teens?

Me & My Firstborn...Parenting was fairly straightforward.

When my children were little, this was easy. We lived in a neighborhood crawling with children. Because it was a modest neighborhood, most of the moms stayed home to raise their families—some worked part-time. Many went ‘back’ to work as their children entered school.

We had each others backs.

 Me (phoned my girlfriend): Take a look out of  your front door. To the right.

Girlfriend: Okay…

A short pause.

Girlfriend: Oh…he’s in trouble!!

My friend went straight outside to ‘catch’ her son riding his bike in the street. With sidewalks to bike on, there was no need for the children to share space in the street with cars. Zero gray area here!

Easy. Simple. She took her sons bike away for the day, which created enough pain for him to stay on the sidewalks. (At least until the next summer.) We all moved on.

Fast forward to this summer….

Another Parent: Hi…just need to let you know the boys climbed up to the top of a stopped train today. (We have railroad tracks very near one section of our neighborhood.)

Me: Thank you so much for calling.

Other Parent: Yeah…we weren’t sure whether to call the other kids’ parents, but knew we would want to know. If the train started moving again, or one of the kids got trapped…

A silent pause while we both took in the seriousness of the boys actions–and (on my end) was grateful that nobody was hurt. 

Me: Yes. I appreciate your phone call. I always want to know.

End result…my sons group were all grounded, given a talking to and/or other consequences. And because of the other parents quick action, we all took action in our own way, with our child. We were on the same page and established that we had each others backs.

My Daughter and I (left two) My Brother & My Son (far right)...GETTING THE HANG OF PARENTING NOW.

I’m not stupid. Those boys could have been out on a train again. Because kids do dumb things. The only guarantee that we know what they are up to, is to keep them within our sights–or in their rooms. It isn’t possible to keep them under lock and key.

Perpetually grounding a child, or saying ‘no’ doesn’t allow them to grow. Children need to make all the ‘small’ decisions, so that they have the skills to make the ‘biggies’ later on…

But that is scary. Terrifying, actually.

THE BITERS...They bit each other. My little princess bit me. My girlfriends princess bit her...and a sibling or two.

Especially when I consider something that I learned when my children were very young:

If the OTHER children are doing it, your child is either doing IT, has done IT or will DO IT. At least a very high percentage of the time…

This is horribly difficult for most parents to accept. Many do NOT accept it…

If YOU did it when you were their age. They either are doing it, have done it, or will do it.

Take biting. I remember when a neighbors’ child bit her brother. In that moment, I felt a little proud because my daughter had never bitten anybody. Kind of like I must have done something right or that my Parenting was effective—or somehow up to snuff.

That bubble burst a few days later, when my daughter (a toddler) bit me.

Lesson learned. Don’t ever get a little proud, or toss stones at others’ Parenting methods.

My kids are now almost 17 and 14. Ages where transgressions are far more serious than biting, writing on the walls with crayons or throwing sand.

With teenagers, the misdeeds run to drinking alcohol, drugs, lying about their whereabouts, speeding in the family car and getting wrapped around a tree, smoking, low grades in high school, sexual activity, or some combination of MOST of the above. All choices that can grossly affect their future. Arrggh….

As luck would have it, I am a single parent now that my children are teenagers! And a female one at that.

Meaning that my choice to make ‘social plans’ and be out a little late, leaves an empty home–with nobody playing ‘gatekeeper.’ I don’t have a wingman to hang around at home to put on ‘eye’ on the children as they arrive home. Or on my home, during my absence. (Anybody remember waiting for parents to leave, before descending on the empty house?)

My father was in the back doorway when my brother and I arrived home. He asked questions that required much more than yes/no answers, checked to see that we didn’t smell like smoke and made A LOT of eye contact. He was Parenting—with a capital P. I’m quite sure he was tired after his long workweek, that he wanted to go to bed—or that he and my mother might rather have been out with their own plans.

Knowing I had to pass ‘inspection’ when I walked in the door helped me make good choices many, many times—and helped me get home on time. I never once returned home to ‘sleeping’ parents—or to an empty house. Not ever. And on that rare occasion, I know my parents gave the neighbors a heads up–and had Aunt Kate do a drive by (or several).

And so I have followed in those footsteps. I am around to see that the kids get home safely, to make sure we all sit down to dinner, to see them off to school and am usually in the bleachers at their sporting events—whether they are ‘riding the pines’ (my Dad’s term for sitting the bench…) or in the ‘starting’ lineup.

This obviously means that I have to arrange my plans (and life) around Parenting. And without a wingman to pick up my slack—meaning I can’t slack! Nor would I want to. There is nothing more important to me than my children. Not one thing.

The two best decisions of my life...They are getting older. Moving deeper into the PARENTING GRAY AREA.

And honestly, I do make plans. And I do trust my children. But I am also aware that there is such thing as giving them rope and some slack…and giving them enough rope to hang themselves. And for me, expecting my teens to adhere to ‘my rules’ while I saunter home at 2am–unable to enforce them–makes no sense. Worse? When parents tell their teens they will be home very late…giving the teens a heads up that there is no ‘gatekeeper.’ Duh?

I understand that each family has its own rules. Each parent comes at Parenting in a different way, with their own unique philosophy and bed of life experience. My Parenting methods certainly might not work for every family. I wouldn’t expect them to…

But as my children get older and Parenting seems more complex, I have found myself wondering when (if ever) it is acceptable to rat out a teenager to his or her parents? How much (or little) are we expected to watch each others backs?

If I have information that another teen is sneaking out of the house, or drinking…is telling another parent going to stop this? Or just cause that teen to go to ground. To find another way to do more of the same?

Or will I only infuriate the other parent–causing them to direct their anger at me? And what if I only heard about the incident–didn’t see it with my own eyes? Is the other parent going to pick me apart–and allow their child to talk their way off the hook? Because we tend to believe and trust our children, don’t we? It is the other children…not our little bundles of joy…that misbehave and lead our darlings astray. Isn’t it?

Do we apply the same concept used to sidestep tricky adult situations? If a parent wanted to see what was going on, wouldn’t they see it?

Are we obligated to make an attempt to help another parent, child, family? To pass along information that might keep a child safe?

If (when?) one of my children engages in dangerous behavior…or actions that could alter the rest of his/her life–I absolutely want to know.

And the chances that they will do something foolish during their teen years are very, very high. Most teens will do something stupid at some point. Just as we all can remember having done something stupid as teenagers…

Parenting teenagers is far more complex than Parenting younger children. There is gray area ALL over the place!

It isn’t as simple as sending another mother outdoors to bust their son riding a bike in the street…

Today, I sent my teenagers off to their first day of school. AGAIN. One to her Junior year in high school. The other to 8th Grade—his final year in middle school.

Another year…more parties, sports events, formal dances—more opportunity for them to go astray…And often children must go astray, to learn. Even when it means learning the hard way. I do get that–not that ‘getting it’ makes it easier!!

And so I cross my fingers, say a prayer, take one day at a time…and do the best I can.

Because what comes next???

I send them to college…as ADULTS.  And then turn them loose into this world, hoping like he#& I did an adequate job in Parenting them.  Because I can’t go back and redo this MOST important job I’ve ever undertaken.

And the repercussions of failed Parenting are far worse than rinsing sand out of a toddler’s eyes and hair. They are life long. Never forgotten. By child or parent.

My Daughter and Niece. BEFORE they launched sand at each other and the scene got UGLY...the camera was forgotten in the mayhem.

And so if ANYBODY out there catches my teenagers straying down the WRONG path, by all means let me know! I won’t be upset, nor will I turn it around on you. It might be my only chance at saving them from themselves…

Trust me, I understand it is unlikely I could do much at that point…

And still, I’d want the opportunity to try. To do something. Rather than nothing.

2 thoughts on “Teenagers. Parenting in the “Gray Area”

  1. I’m with you Amy….I would want to know! Not in a “look how horrible your child is way” but in a “we are all in this together” way.
    I have also made no bones about it to my children that just because people are adults does not mean they make good decisions…ie- giving under age teenagers alcohol because “they are going to do it anyways, might as well do it at home”. I would NEVER be okay with someone else serving my child alcohol.

  2. I’m with you on all of that! Good example, by the way. I remember in high school that there were parents who not only allowed kids to drink in their homes–they also provided the alcohol. I would NEVER be okay with that, either. (Nor were my parents…)

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