Although I don’t have a teen-aged child yet, I read this article online from the NY Times Motherlode blog with much interest. Randye Hoder writes that her 14 year old son asked to celebrate New Years Eve without them and that ‘these days one of the most frequently asked questions in our house — and often the toughest to answer — is the “Can I go …” question. For parents of children between the ages of 13 and 15, so much hinges on the circumstance, the family and the particular kid. In our case, the answer isn’t always the answer that Nathaniel’s friends hear, and that can be a problem.’ She writes that ‘the key is to strike the right balance between a child’s autonomy and security. But because that balance is not the same for every family or every child, things can get thorny. Our children are anxious to move in lockstep with one another. How often have we heard the lament, “But So-and-So’s parents are letting him go”? Yet parents are not always in the same place.or should they be. What is perfectly acceptable to the parent of a precocious third child may seem like insanity to the parent of a shy, tentative first-born. What seems entirely O.K. to a parent of a city kid might feel overly risky to one whose children have grown up in the suburbs. And what works for the parents of a young teenage boy may signal danger for those of a teenage girl.
A good friend recently told me, in no uncertain terms, that he would never have let his 13-year-old son go to the El Rey. By the same token, a few months ago I told another parent that I didn’t think we should allow our sons to go to parties with 10th graders. I was certain that doing so would expose our boys to temptations and pressures that they were too young to handle. And I wanted this other parent to say no, too — primarily because that would make saying no easier for me. Yet this other parent didn’t agree. So we kept Nathaniel home, only to have him complain that “everyone else is going.”
My husband and I have long prided ourselves on setting clear and consistent rules and expectations for our children. And our kids have responded well to these boundaries. But with Nathaniel, at least, some of the rules have suddenly become far less black and white. They are constantly shifting, depending on the subtleties of each situation. And that is making parenting less sure-footed than it once seemed. Still, negotiating each situation as it comes up isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It opens the door for lots of discussions about why certain decisions are right for our family, and why other families may make different choices.
By the way, Nathaniel did wind up celebrating New Year’s at a small party, with about 20 other kids. He texted at 1 a.m. to let us know that his friend’s dad had just picked the boys up, and he was on his way to a sleepover — safe, secure and spreading his wings.