“Dad, can I have a few people over tonight?” Jeremy asked as Marcie and I headed out the door to a nearby party we were attending one Saturday night in 2007.
Jeremy was a high school sophomore at the time. The prior night, when Marcie and I were home, he had four friends over and they were quite tame — so Jeremy’s request that next night seemed innocuous when he said it would basically be the same group from the prior night.
We said okay and left. An hour later, Jeremy called me and asked, “Would it be okay if I have a few more people over?” I asked how many in total we were now talking about. “Seven or eight,” he told me. I said that was okay. I told Marcie, and she said that was too many. I told her she was concerned over nothing. “They’re good kids,” I said. We continued the discussion for a few more minutes until she convinced me that I had made a mistake, that the same way that four had become seven or eight, eight might soon become sixteen.
We were only five minutes from home, so I decided to go home and see what was up there. I called to tell Jeremy that I was on my way because I didn’t want to surprise him. I wasn’t trying to catch him doing something wrong, I just wanted to prevent it before it happened. I said, “Tell those people who are coming over never mind. A few people is one thing. Seven or eight is too many. It’s too much of a get-together.”
“Um, Dad,” he replied, “I can’t tell them they can’t come. They’re already here,” as he went on to explain that when he had called earlier for permission, they were actually already there.
“Well, they’re going to have to leave,” I told him. “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
When I pulled into our driveway, I had the highly unusual experience of finding Jeremy waiting outside for me. “Hey Dad. Everyone’s leaving,” was his greeting. I peered around to the front of the house and watched as his friends — many of whom I didn’t recognize from that distance — left through our front door. One, two, three, six, ten, twelve, fifteen. Fifteen already!
I immediately flashed back to the school assembly for parents I had attended the year before — when Jeremy had just entered high school — and the mom who told the story of being called by a neighbor to come home from the restaurant she was at because there were police in her driveway and an apparent party in progress. She pulled into her driveway and counted as 150 kids piled out of her house. One hundred and fifty kids! Wow. We’ll never know how many kids would have ended up in our house if Marcie hadn’t convinced me that something didn’t smell right to her.
The next morning, I found a bottle of whiskey in the yard — seemingly having been tossed out of the basement window when I had arrived home to break things up — and who knows what else I didn’t find.
After the kids left that night, I had told Jeremy he was grounded and that I was going set the house alarm and check the system’s log when I got home to be sure he stayed in. Why did I tell him about the log rather than just set it and see what happened? Because as I said about my call to him when I was heading home from the party, my goal wasn’t to catch him doing something wrong, it was to stop him from doing it. We used the alarm on many subsequent evenings to make sure the house was not being used in a way that was contrary to our rules. (Jeremy, now in college, told me recently that he spent many hours, over the course of many evenings, unsuccessfully attempting to clear the log on our alarm system.)
If you strongly believe, “The party can’t happen at my house — not with my kid, he’s a good kid,” it’s time to wake up to the reality of the situation. I’m not an expert on why teens do what they do. I just know that virtually all teens do these things. Jeremy was an easy teen. A good kid in every way, by almost anyone’s definition. We all have to recognize the problem — this is what teens do and we need to deal with it.
Jeremy had called me to ask permission (deflating the numbers) as a way of manipulating me. He felt that if he asked for permission I would grant it, and that it would build my trust in him. Thanks to Marcie, his strategy backfired. It would be nice if we could have completely open, honest, trusting relationships with our teens, but teens will do things behind our backs — they wouldn’t be normal if they didn’t — and that’s what we’re up against.
It’s easy to find information about how to babyproof/childproof your home. You know: put away tiny objects they can swallow, cover sharp corners on coffee tables, keep cleaners and other poisons out of reach, put those plastic things into the electrical outlets, etc.
Information about teenproofing your home is not as easy to find. While I don’t have all the answers, over the next few days I’m going to share what we did as we experienced life with three teens these past seven years. Very much in line with the style of my book I will present lessons learned/suggestions from my life experiences, and other learning. As with my book, I will give ideas that might not work for everyone. It is my hope and expectation that everyone will find something of use within these posts — at the very least, food for thought.
One of the pieces of positive feedback that I have repeatedly received about my book is that it’s not preachy. This series will have a couple of preachy moments as there are issues here which, to me, are black and white. I’m open-minded, so whether or not you agree with me, I look forward to your input. In fact, I am eager for it. Input from you will make this series much more valuable and useful.
Please join the conversation. Share your comments and ideas…