One of my best friends has a teenage son who consistently challenges both her and her husband in every imaginable way. Often as I watch their travails, I feel like I’m sitting at Harkin’s watching my very own preview of coming attractions. and much like I often feel at the theatre, the previews are too detailed, too graphic, and they ruin the movie by telling you exactly what’s “coming soon.” Frankly, I’m in the “I’d rather be surprised” school of parenting. I mean, what’s the point of preparation anyway? It’s not like I’m really gonna alter my child-rearing tactics in order to avoid a whole new array of potential parenting pitfalls.
So the latest one is this: Joey (not his real name), likes to dip into the alcohol and marijuana. Now we’ve all been 17 so that’s not really such an outrageous occurrence. But they’re conscientious parents and have instituted random drug tests in order to curb the undesired behavior. Now Joey, as might be expected, lies about ingesting both the booze and the pot in order to avoid negative consequences. Hard to discern which is worse, but my friends’ have focused more on the lying than the actual drug and alcohol offense.
Well, the other day Joey comes to his mom and says that he’s been invited to his friend Scott’s house on Saturday night for a beer pong party. They intend to get good and hammered and then stay overnight to sleep off the stupor. Joey preempts his mom’s concerns by clarifying that no one will be getting behind the wheel of a car, Scott’s parents will be home, and he really ought to be rewarded with the opportunity of going to the party since he is, after all, telling her the truth while not yet under any type of guilt-ridden duress.
What to do? She asked my advice. I wanted to say, “Are you kidding? I have no frickin’ idea on this one. My kids are children for Gods sake. They’re never gonna be 17 year old man-boys who want to partake in ugly adult activities. How in the hell would I know what to do?” But I self-edited and just said, “Um…I guess you should let him go. After all, I do remember being a teenager. If you say no he’s just gonna do it anyway and lie about it.” Then I added something to the effect of “I guess a vice you know about at a supervised party is better than one you don’t know about that drives around under the influence with five other teenage boys who all believe they’re immune to mortality.”
I’m not sure she appreciated my aphorism.
But the question hasn’t left my mind since our conversation. Eventually I too will have to make decisions of this magnitude. And frankly, I don’t have a clue about what the right thing to do is. I remember how my parents forbid just about everything. Consequently, I remember lying –a lot. I know some people consider their adolescent kids to be pre-adults and rather than participating in long, drawn out arguments, would rather just be “friends” with their kids so they green light pretty much everything. I’ve even heard tell of parents who actually enjoy a few puffs of the cannabis plant along with their youngsters.
I spoke with a teetotaler pal of mine the other day and she looked at me askance when I announced that in our house, a few sips of wine now and again wasn’t verboten. “We believed more in the European model of parenting,” I added, feeling more than a little ashamed to admit it.
What is right, I wonder. There will likely be scores of perplexing problems ahead. Yet I go through life wondering why I’m the only progenitor who missed parent orientation and is going through the experience blindly without access to that mythical handbook everyone else seems to have in their possession. It’s scary. And frustrating.
I guess that’s why I’d rather skip the previews and just be stunned by whatever reality awaits me.