Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Teen Drinking, Sex, Curfews, and Partying. (What we do...)

A few days ago, I posted 10 hypothtical questions to my faithful readers, asking what you would do in particular situations with teens regarding tough issues, like drinking, sex, parties and curfews. I was waaaay impressed with some of the thoughtful answers I received. Thanks!

As promised, here is what we did. As I often tell my kids, I have no idea whether we're doing this parenting thing correctly, or even well at all. But I have to believe that the fact that our kids are honest with us, choose to spend time with us, and care what we think is a good indicator. My biggest hope is that they make it to 25 without any major incidents -- which is why we basically only have Two Big Rules. But, as you can tell, there are a whole lot more than two situations that need our attention and our attempts at good parenting... whatever THAT is!

1.) Your boy/girl twin 17 1/2 year olds ask if they can have a few friends over for hot-tubbing, movie watching and a marshmallow roast at your fire pit. "And drinking?" you ask. "Any plans for drinking?" They know that you know that teens (even those who probably aced their SATs that morning) drink. They know that you don't like it. "Likely," they answer. But it's not a drinking party. It's a get together with maybe some drinking." We can either get together here or at someone else's house. You, the parents, are home. How do you answer your kids' question?

We allowed a total of about 10 friends -- although my guess is that at one point there were more like 15 or 20. The group spent a good deal of time around the bonfire outside. We didn't "check on them," except to monitor the noise level out of consideration of our neighbors. We gave permission for friends to spend the night as long as their parents were aware of where they were. I asked that all indications of any get-together (trash, food, etc.) be cleaned up by morning, and it was.

2.) Your 19-year-old son has been going out with someone for over a year. You adore her. He loves her. You know they're having sex, but you haven't had any in-depth conversations with him/them about it. One morning, when you're up early, you see them at the door. She's quietly leaving. Do you say something? What do you say? To whom?

This whole situation just felt silly at that point and that morning I just told them that I was making breakfast and to stick around and join me -- which they did. From then on, they neither snuck nor flaunted. Her family lives just a few blocks from us, her parents are our friends, and all six of us have discussed the issue and agreed that it's "no big deal" if they're sleeping together, as they are obviously committed and in love and being smart regarding birth control. Because she bought a queen-size bed, though, they're hardly ever here anymore! They're now 20, have been together for over three years, both go to school full-time and work close to full-time and the last thing they need is to "have to" get an apartment that they can't afford in order to be together. This way, they can concentrate on school and know that they have a roof -- no, two -- over their heads and parents who put more emphasis on their long-term goals and schooling than on whether or not they're sleeping together. It just felt like the most honest way to go about it.

3.) Your 22-year-old invites her younger siblings, all over 17 but under 21, to a "formal cocktail party" at her house. How do you handle the situation?

We allowed them to go, asked our oldest daughter to "keep an eye on them," and insisted that they spend the night.

4.) Your 17-year-old daughter is a peer health educator with Planned Parenthood. (Teens go to local schools' health classes and educate their peers about many teen health issues, including but in no way limited to, sexuality issues.) In her once-a-week meetings at PP, she has access to condoms and can take as many as she wants. Her Mormon girlfriend, who has been having sex for over a year already, asks her for condoms, which she willingly provides. YOU get a call from the girl's irate mother, an acquaintance of yours, who found a condom in her daughter's car and demanded to know where it came from. How do you handle the call?

I did what most of you suggested: reminded the mom that her daughter was already choosing to have sex and that my daughter was simply contributing to her safety by providing a condom. The mom never spoke to me again; the girls are still dear friends. E's friend is now married, with a baby.

5.) Your 16-year-old daughter confides to you that she and her boyfriend of almost a year have decided to have sex. She asks you not to tell her father. How do you respond?

I told her that I've never had a secret from her dad and didn't want to start now so I suggested that SHE tell him. She did. It was a disaster -- and it took their relationship years to recover from it and negatively affected our marriage (since I believe that my daughter had the more mature approach and attitude about it all). It was a huge mistake to go about it that way and I should have agreed to keep the secret until she was ready to tell him herself. I still regret the way I handled this.

6.) Your 16-year-old's curfew is midnight. She has never missed it. She calls at 10:00 PM, asking if she can spend the night at her girlfriend's house. How do you respond? What if she calls from a guy's house and says that "a bunch of people are spending the night... his parents are home." How do you respond in that case? What if parents aren't home? (How do you know?)

This one is tough. And I deal with it differently now that they're almost 18 than I did a year or two ago. I do ask my kids to call early in the evening -- preferably before 10:00 -- if they're want to request to spend the night somewhere. This tells me that they're planning ahead and "pacing" any drinking, not guzzling and then dealing with things later. (I believe that teens need to "learn to drink" and unfortunately we don't set things up to allow that. Instead, they tend to quickly guzzle to excess.) My biggest concern is that they stay away from any combination of vehicles and alcohol. A year or two ago, I would have (and did) call the home of my kid's friend, ask to talk to parents, etc. But now, I must admit that this is one of those situations in which I count on my kids to be honest, mature and to use good judgement.

7.) You and your husband are having mojitos (cosmos, a beer, a glass of wine... whatever). Your 17 and 20-year-olds ask if you'll make them one. How do you respond? How do you respond if they're with friends?

This one is easy. We will provide them one drink as long as they promise to stay home. We do not supply drinks to their friends. But we do treat our German exchange students as our own kids, partly because we know their traditions in Germany are consistent with our attitudes at home.

8.) Your 15-year-old asks both parents if they ever smoked weed. You both have. How do you respond? (Assuming you answer honestly:) He asks if you liked it. One did, one didn't. How do you respond? He asks if you currently smoke. Neither parents does, but one parent misses it and one doesn't. How do you respond? He then asks which you think is worse for teens -- weed or alcohol. How do you respond?

I hate the stuff -- always have. Tom has smoked, liked it, but no longer smokes at all. We are both honest with our kids about our attitudes and about our past. We remind them that both drinking and weed are illegal for teens, but tell them that alcohol probably causes greater problems in society as a whole because of it's addictive qualities and the dangers of drinking and driving.

9.) Your 15-year-old confides that her 14-year-old cousin, whose parents forbid her to drink, has been drunk numerous times. Do you call the cousin's parent -- your sibling -- and tell them?

10.) Your 16-year-old confides that her 15-year-old cousin, has been having sex. Your child isn't sure if the sex was protected or not. Do you call the cousin's parent -- your sibling -- and tell them?

These two are hypothetical and I'm GLAD they haven't happened! I think that I'd talk with my niece or nephew and encourage him/her to tell parents. But I wouldn't tell them. Nor would I put my child in a situation that risks trust -- cousin-to-cousin or parent-to-child.

One thing I do know now that I've been raising teens: it is anything but easy, there is no one right or wrong way to raise kids (especially teens!), and honest and communication are BY FAR the most important things to preserve in that relationship. If you've lost those, I believe that you're well on your way to losing your connection with your kids. I'd rather know what my teens are doing and deal with it the best I can than not have any clue to what their lives are really like. And, more importantly, I want my kids to be SAFE, and a head-in-the-sand attitude could put them at greater risk. I encourage them to be open and honest, let them know when I agree and disagree with them (boy, do I!), and let go of my need to be right. That one's hard. But so far, at least, they're great kids ("kids"?!) who share their lives with us openly and honestly, so I have to believe that we're doing something right.

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Anonymous said...

It's good to see (read) that you have a really great relationship to your children that is such open, and I wished that there would be more parents like you who openly and honestly handle these - admittedly tough - subjects as you did (and still do).

In my opinion, you managed to handle these situations quite properly (maybe except for the father-daughter-sex issue, as you wrote), and if I had children to stay abroad, I would've have been choosing you (and your family)!

From what I was reading from your blog the last couple of days - and I admit that I'm becoming addicted to it simply because of your nice way of writing -, I'd say that you both are really good parents. And, looking at the pictures you published of your daughters and comparing them to you (particularly to the photo of yourself when you were younger), I can tell that your daughters like almost exactly like you (that's meant as a compliment).

So, keep writing and I promise that I'll be reading it, though I'm generally quite poor when it comes down to posting comments...

Finally, good luck for you as far as looking for a new job is concerned, and yes, "Apfelkuchen" would be appreciated...

Bek said...

We don't have any kids yet, but those are some very tough questions which we will have to face one day, too. I would have agreed with all of your answers a few years ago, but since living here, I must have become more conservative.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"... your daughters like almost exactly like you"
should have been, of course,
"your daughters look almost exactly like you"
[damn typos...]

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