Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, June 06, 2011

The Kids Are Alright -- Or Are They?

A couple months ago we found ourselves in possession of a teenager for a few days, along with instruction to make sure that the subject "stayed out of trouble." So we set a few basic rules such as, "You don't have to go to bed at any particular time, but you need to turn in your cell phone and get off the computer by 10:30 every night."

The experience got me thinking about my own experiences as a teenager and the prospect that we will have a house full of teenage girls in less than a decade. Restrictions didn't play a major part in my own teenage experience, in part because I was reassuringly out of the social scene. In return for being generally quiet and responsible, my few outlets (flying up on my own to visit family friends in Washington state for a few weeks every summer, a series of increasingly powerful air rifles and eventually trips to the "real" shooting range, monopolization of the computer when I went into a writing frenzy) were tolerated with equanimity. I tried once to stage an argument about dating privileges, but since I didn't actually have anyone who had consented to date me at the time, it was an exercise mostly put on for show. My experience was one of not having many rules, but in great part this was because I wasn't trying to do anything that would cause me to bump up against rules. (There was no curfew because I was never out at night, etc.)

As a result, what I tend to think of as my period of dealing with teenage issues is in fact the first half of my college career -- a key difference as although I went to a college which was intent on enforcing a lot of rules, from a parental perspective I was off on my own as an adult.

When I think of that period, though, I'm seeing it through the prism of having known that the to-be-MrsDarwin and I were kids with certain principles that we weren't going to violate no matter how much opportunity we were given. Given that we didn't see having extra time together and privacy as a moral danger, we naturally wanted as much as we could get for the obvious reason that we preferred being together to anything else.

Thinking about this from the parent's perspective, though, it occurs to me that there wasn't really anyone who was in a position to know this absolutely other than us. To us it may have been clear that if we were allowed to hang out, alone together, till all hours that "nothing would happen", but however much faith our parents might have had in us if we had still been living at home at the time, they could never have known it absolutely because they weren't us.

It's all very well to say that the parents of "good kids" should have faith in their kids' virtue (which would have been my thought at the time: "You know I'm not going to get into trouble so why have rules?") But the parent can hope, but never be quite sure, whether he is the parent of the "good kid" who stays out of trouble or is that easily mocked creature, the parent who thought his kid as "the good kid" right up until the kid got into trouble and everyone started saying, "If only they'd kept a better watch on their kids."

I'm not one for before-the-fact, absolute rules, so this doesn't lead me to any "The rule in our house will be X" conclusions. (There are those who announce things such as, "My daughter won't be allowed to date until she's eighteen," around the time said daughter is born. From my point of view, that will depend a lot more on the daughter and the prospective date than the age.) But it does certainly give me a lot more sympathy with the parent who imposes certain rules on their "good kids", despite the protests of the kids that they can be trusted to stay out of trouble. Sometimes virtue can use time some and space to lets its roots sink in.


The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

As the mom of a "good kid" teenager who has earned her freedoms and privileges by proving herself consistently, I want to add that teenagers need explicit, concrete, and specific rules because it reassures them that they are loved. This is an insecure time, and they need the concrete assurance that someone is looking our for them and determined that their lives go well. Nebulous "rules" like "do what you want, as long as you don't get into trouble" can risk conveying "I don't care what you're up to."

As an added bonus, Offspring #1 has thanked us more than once for explicit rules that have enabled her to "save face" when confronted with peer pressure, because she can say "My parents won't let me do that."

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

I second the thing about teens needing explicit concrete rules -- just as toddlers do. In a way, teen-agers are like very tall toddlers with hormones. They are testing boundaries en route to a higher level of independence.

Mrs. Zummo said...

I got away with far too much because I was a "good" kid, i.e. good grades and subtle about my transgressions. I will certainly be stricter with my children and clearer about what is expected of them. I also think it is important to keep your teens busy with extracurriculars, part-time jobs etc. You know what they say about idle hands.

Julia said...

Even good kids don't always make good decisions. And trust isn't an all-or-nothing proposition. I can trust my daughter to choose good friends and avoid parties with alcohol, I can trust her to call home when she changes locations, I can trust her to stay on top of her school work. But put her with a giggling group of peers, and stupid things do tend to happen. Not because she's untrustworthy, but because the situation is bigger than her ability to control. I vote for concrete rules, too.

Darwin said...

Opinionated Homeschooler,

As an added bonus, Offspring #1 has thanked us more than once for explicit rules that have enabled her to "save face" when confronted with peer pressure, because she can say "My parents won't let me do that."

MrsDarwin's father assured her as a teenager, "If you ever feel pressed to do something you think shouldn't, be sure that I would make it against the rules and feel free to make me the bad guy by saying, 'My dad says I can't.'"

Also, to be clear, reading over several comments, when I said I'm not into absolute before the fact rules, I was thinking more of the way, way before the fact rules that some parents announce about the time their kids are born. "He won't be allowed to drive till he's eighteen." Or, "My daughter won't be allowed to date till she's 20!"

We'll certainly have stated rules, but what they are will probably depend on the kid and the conditions.

kristy said...

I was a good kid who held myself to very high standards as a teenager. My mother didn't put any rules on me because she felt she didn't need to worry about me, especially since my older sister got into a lot of trouble. Unfortunately she didn't consider that as a 15 - 16 year old I hadn't developed much discernment, and was very naive. Therefore I ended up in situations that could have ended up very badly.

As parents who have raised two teens and are working on the third, We have always told them that part of the reason for curfews, and the fact that their parents check with other parents is that I don't want the to be placed in unsafe situations.

Anyway, just a thought.