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.