WASHINGTON, December 29, 2014 – The question has come up a couple of times on my social networks: “How late should I let my teen stay out on New Year’s Eve?”
My experience as a consultant and teacher is that no one asks for advice because they want your honest opinion; they ask because they want you to affirm as right whatever it is they have already decided to do. If you give any other answer, you are likely to be resented or treated as a fraud.
With that in mind, I refuse to answer that question when friends and acquaintances ask it unless I’m first paid my standard consulting fee and given a complete dossier on the kids involved, and unless I’m willing to end the friendship. But addressing it as a general hypothetical, my answer is, are you nuts?
First an observation: Someone has to be the parent in the parent-teen relationship, and it sure isn’t going to be the teenager. If the parent can’t muster the backbone for the job, think about being called “grandma” or “the grieving parents.”
A parent isn’t a friend. My son has complained often over the years that I’m not a very good friend, a complaint that draws from me a huge feeling of satisfaction. “No, Harlan, I’m not your friend. I’m something better; I’m your father.” That he doesn’t understand the significance of the distinction isn’t important right now. It will matter when he’s a father.
The game of parenting isn’t one of instant gratification. It is one of perseverance, and frequent anger, resentment and recrimination from your children. They want what they want now, and they don’t see past tomorrow. A parent has to see past tomorrow and teach them to delay gratification.
A parent also has to remember that no matter how mature the teen, teen brains aren’t fully equipped to anticipate consequences and suppress impulsive behavior. That ability doesn’t fully develop until we are in our 20s. Even the brightest, most mature teen will occasionally do something so stupidly impulsive that it leaves us scratching our heads in amazement. Add friends, cars and alcohol, and amazement will turn to horror and grief.
Every kid is different. Learning to let go and give them more responsibility is a process that takes faith, courage and respect from both sides. I don’t know when your child is ready to drive, and I don’t know how the presence of friends in the car will affect his sense of responsibility. I do know that peer pressure and the desire to impress are extremely powerful, and that teens will do things when their friends are around that they’d never do on their own.
You’ll have to decide when your child is ready to drive, to date, and to go to New Year’s parties, but the odds are much that if you allow your minor children to do all three, that you and they are going to regret it.
As for my kids, they can drive when they can pay for their own insurance and their own gasoline. They’ll get to drive their mom’s 12-year-old Volvo station wagon that can do 70 with a tail wind coming down a mountain and has every safety feature that was available when we bought it. If they’re out past 11, they’ll come home to two very relieved parents who will then want to have a long talk with them about responsibility. They won’t come home to two cool friends.
Should you let your teens go out with friends on New Year’s Eve? No. Stay home and watch movies and play games. Throw a family-oriented party for their friends and their friends’ parents. Don’t be afraid to be told you’re old-fashioned, unfair, unspeakably uncool, or a lousy friend.
Take it as an honor. You are, first and foremost, a parent.