We’re told that honesty is the best policy, but is it reasonable to expect that your teenagers are going to tell you everything?
Do you tell them everything?
I am forced to look back at my own preteen and teen years as my boys get left more and more to their own devices, and I am scared. What kids do for fun and to proclaim their independence can be a little frightening.
Actually, it can be a lot frightening.
And yet, we must be fearless. What good parenting seems to require is a measure of calm unparalleled in any other circumstance. What good parenting seems to require is the removal of one’s cerebral cortex so no scary thoughts might emerge.
Our own fears are what will push us further and further apart from our kids, and what will remove any slight chance at productive dialogue.
Take, for example, a recent afternoon when my 13-year-old texted me to say he was going with a friend to buy a birthday present after school.
“Great, enjoy,” I texted back.
I didn’t ask where he was going, but in my mind it was to the local GameStop or Barnes & Noble. In my mind, he was in Park Slope.
Later, when we met for dinner, it turned out that Eli had gone into Manhattan, into Soho, to check out some skate shops. I had to stop and think. Was that a problem? He took the train every day, back and forth from school or to visit friends in different parts of Brooklyn. In the fall, he’ll very possibly go into Manhattan for high school. Did it make a difference that he crossed over a bridge or went through a tunnel? Did he not tell me where he was going because he thought I might tell him he couldn’t go? Was it a lie of omission, or just an oversight?
The conversation about it started out calmly in the car.
“I think you just need to let one of us know if you’re going into the city,” my husband said.
“Yes,” I agreed.
“What?” Eli sounded confused from the back. “I don’t get it, why does it matter?”
My husband and I looked at each other. Compliance was what we were looking for, easy-peasy agreement of a simple rule.
But it was not to be. “Why?” often gets in the way.
My husband offered up his take.
“Because we’re you’re parents, and we’re worried about you,” he said. “You’ll understand when you’re a parent.”
Of course. It made perfect sense. Parents are worried about their children, and so the children need to take care to make the parents less worried. Right. That’s the way it should go.
From the back seat, though, there was still confusion and dissent.
“Really, I just don’t understand why you’d care.”
Eli’s logic — or illogic — was driving my husband understandably crazy.
“What’s not to understand?” he said, frustrated. “You just need to tell us.”
I got it, then, from Eli’s end. He is not a parent, won’t be — hopefully — for a good decade-plus. He hasn’t had that sinking feeling in his gut during even a millisecond when he imagines something might have happened to his child.
He knew where he was, and he knew he was fine. It was us who had the problem, and he couldn’t understand it.
I tried to placate. How had this become an argument? The teenage years were going to be long and hard if we didn’t chill out enough to offer some non-angry explanation he could understand.
“We’re not mad at you, honey,” I said. “You didn’t do anything wrong, it’s just that you knew where you were and we didn’t, and I pictured you in Park Slope. Not that it’s a big deal, but the city is further to get back from and…”
Wait. Why did it matter? Was I more scared because it would take longer for him to get back? All we can do is cross our fingers, and keep our communications with our kids calm and open-minded.
They are their own people, after all. And soon, they will be taller than I am.