Q: In our city, most of the high school seniors participate in Senior Beach Week during spring break. They rent beach houses and condos, and they party like there’s no tomorrow. Alcohol, marijuana, and sex abound. Our friends justify allowing their kids to go by saying they have to be trusted sometime. In truth, we all have good kids who have never given us any trouble. They just want to go and be part of the scene. Our nephew’s parents, however, refuse to let him go. They say it’s irresponsible, even if the child in question has been trustworthy up to this point. We are wavering back and forth on letting our 17-year-old son attend. He assures us he won’t get into trouble. What are your thoughts?
A: My immediate thought is that it requires a serious lapse of common sense for a person to play with an explosive device, even if it has a safety switch and it’s never gone off before. In other words, the fact that a youngster has been trouble-free and trustworthy to date is no guarantee that she or he will not spontaneously combust if put in the wrong situation.
It’s not a matter of trust. It’s a matter of understanding that all teens are impressionable—some more than others—and want to be accepted by their peers. It would be one thing if these kids were all members of a church youth group going on an adult-supervised mission trip to a third-world country. It’s quite another when the destination is the modern equivalent of Sodom and Gomorrah.
I strongly suspect that the parents who justify allowing their kids to attend this weeklong orgy by saying, “You gotta trust ’em sometime,” are really afraid to incur the negative emotional reaction that is bound to happen if they say no. They want to be liked by their kids, so they let them do things that strain common sense. Your nephew’s parents are to be commended for standing their ground. Certainly the talk will be that they’re overprotective and controlling and so on. That’s just more justification on the part of parents who desperately need to rationalize their reasons for making a really bad decision.
Too many of today’s parents have let having a good relationship with their kids take priority over providing effective leadership, part of which involves the willingness to make unpopular decisions. Instead, they think like politicians, always worried about doing something that might hurt their chances of reelection (or, in this case, something that might cause their kids not to like them for a while, as if that’s relevant to anything). Politics and parenting don’t mix.
However, I do have a suggestion. In lieu of putting your foot down and taking the inevitable heat from your son, you might propose to him that since he has no intention of doing anything inappropriate, the entire family will go on spring break together. During the day, he can hobnob with his friends, but the evenings will be family time. That plan would afford him a reasonable amount of freedom while at the same time minimizing the potential risks. Furthermore, instead of being tyrants, you’re just a couple of fuddy-duddies. You can live with that, I’m sure.
Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Tracy Owens-Jahn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (817) 295-1751.