I’m appreciative of the response to my “teenproofing” series this week. A bunch of people posted comments and many talked with me directly: by e-mail, by phone, or in-person. In January, when my monthly newsletter goes out, more people will read the blog and chime in. Blog content becomes so much richer when readers join the conversation. I am also hopeful that parents will let their inner leader emerge (which sometimes takes courage) and send links to the series to groups of parents in their communities in order to initiate on-line and off-line dialogues. I know of one dad who sent the links to 40 parents in his town.
I want to respond to one of the comments posted. It came from Helen, and included this: “One thing I am struggling with is the Shore after the Prom thing. It has been the cause of many heated discussions in our house. I know my kids are very responsible, but I am concerned about everything else that can go on down there. I am anxious to see what other parents have to say. Is my kid right = are we the only ones that have a problem with this?”
Helen raises a big issue. The simple answer to the question posed is no, Helen, you are not alone. You are not only one who has a problem with this. Two years ago, we allowed our son, Jeremy, to go “down the shore” (as we say in New Jersey) after the prom. A lot went into that decision, and we rejected parts of his plans, particularly those involving driving. I’ll detail those in a moment, but the fact that we let him go means that we let him be at a place without parental supervision — and that’s not much different than letting him attend an unsupervised party, which, as I just got finished documenting in this series, we had gone through great efforts to avoid.
To take my best stab at tackling the issues raised in Helen’s comment, I’m going to first take a step back. Another comment posted came from Joel Baskin. Joel dealt with all of the teen issues with his own daughter and regularly addresses teen issues in his professional life as a school counselor and psychotherapist. Among other things, Joel said, “The best shot any of us have…..and it’s supported by research….is the ‘Trusting Parent-Kid Relationship’ which, by the way, goes both ways.”
That’s along the same lines of what my friend Jake told me when he and I were talking this week. Jake encourages all parents to have an open dialogue with their kids. Jake is a volunteer fire fighter. His biggest concern, from personal experience as a responder at many more fatal teen accident scenes than I could have imagined, is making sure that kids don’t drink and drive. Jake says, “Kids are going to drink. It’s not right and it’s not legal, but it’s going to happen. We have to make sure they do not get behind the wheel after they drink, or get into a car with someone else who has been drinking. The way to make sure that happens is to tell them that they can call us any time, from any place, and we will pick them up.”
I made use of similar advice. I told my kids repeatedly, and in no uncertain terms, “Call me any time, from any place, and I will pick you up, no questions asked.” I was told that the last part is critical — akin to Joel referring to the ‘Trusting Parent-Kid Relationship’ going both ways. There were several times when I did ask Jeremy questions and he reminded me, “Dad, no questions asked,” and I let the conversation end there.
Long before we reluctantly let Jeremy go “down the shore” after the prom, we had told him many times how we felt about drinking. We had told him many times about the dangers of drinking and driving. We also knew that he was only three months away from going to college where he would be on his own, out of our sight, staying up till all hours, doing who knows what; something we would have to come to grips with if we were going to let him go away to school (which we were). Right or wrong, we decided that the post-prom thing would be a three-month advance on the independence he was about to be granted at college.
We did take several precautions. Jeremy came to us as the prom approached and talked about the limo service that he and a group of friends wanted to chip in to hire to drive them from the house where photos would be taken pre-prom, to the prom, and then from the prom to the shore. We asked about the ride back home from the shore and he explained that a group of them were going to convoy several cars a few days prior, leaving cars at the shore for use down there, and for the ride home.
We said no. We told him they had no need for cars down there and that the only way he could go is if he and friends chipped in on a car service to drive them home from the shore. He wasn’t happy about it, but knew that you fight certain fights and you give in on others. He argued that no one else would want to chip in on that cost, but soon found that most everyone else’s parents agreed it was the best idea.
I also reiterated, for the millionth time, our feelings about underage drinking. On that subject, here is a speech I gave my daughters, at a “teachable moment”:
I explained that throwing up and having a hangover are the least of the problems. I talked about these real-life things that happen when people drink too much:
1. Drive drunk or get into a car with someone who is drunk
2. Fall down and smash their heads and die (when Jeremy was a freshman, a classmate of his was in a coma for a day after she fell down drunk, smashing her head on a bath tub)
3. Go to the hospital (and possibly die) due to alcohol poisoning
4. Have someone take sexual advantage of you
5. Get arrested because it’s illegal to drink before the age of 21
I asked Jeremy last night about “after-prom” and he said, “I guess it just takes that mutual trust and respect that you talk about in your posts,” sounding like Joel. He also recalled a terrible rape incident involving kids from another local high school down the shore the year of his prom and said, “Kids can’t let the fun of after-prom make them forget that bad things can happen. If nothing else, this time at the shore is a time with increased responsibility (being away from your parents), so it’s not the time to take fewer precautions.”
We have never shied away from telling our kids about horrible stories like that one. A few years ago we told our daughters about the story of another local, 18-year-old girl who was kidnapped and murdered after a night of drinking in New York City.
Once again, I hope others will add their comments. Please join the conversation…