The Terrible Teens

Every mom seems to have a different theory when it comes to the "ideal" time in her children's lives to be working outside the home.

Some of you might say "how spoiled to think women can just pick and choose when to work" or "how terrible to think there is ever an ideal time to abandon your children." There is truth in this criticism. But still, I hear women all the time debating this idea of when it's "best" to work as a mom (usually before they actually have children, when choices seem especially endless).

B.B., a mom of teenagers in Chevy Chase who I must identify by her initials because she agreed not to discuss her teenagers in public, used to work in an office and has been home since her children became teenagers. She explains.

"The conventional wisdom is that if teenagers come home to an empty house, they will have sex and use drugs. This is b.s. (like all conventional wisdom). What teenagers do depends on who they are, who their friends are, and lots of other things. Sure, it's nice to be home because my kids need me to drive them everywhere, and I like the small things, like when they come over with friends and eat all the food in the house. But now I realize, since my daughter's going to college next year, I'm glad I was here for the past four years -- because this time was fleeting."

This bit about teenagers makes sense to me, having been one myself. But since I don't have teenagers yet, I'm curious what experts advise. I asked Dr. Anna Fels, a New York psychiatrist, author of Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women's Changing Lives and Mommy Wars contributor what she sees.

"Virtually all teenagers have some problems -- it's part of the territory of adolescence. Working moms (and everyone else) instantly assume that any difficulty the child of a working momther has is caused by inadequate mothering. Working women need to be aware of this societal bias.

"I would recommend that working women who feel guilty and conflicted about their parenting check out how their child is actually doing. If the child has friends, is doing their school work, and has interests that they are pursuing, the child is probably doing well."

What do those of you with teenagers think? How do the challenges facing working moms (and stay-at-home ones) change when your kids hit adolescence? What are other parents you know doing right -- and wrong?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  April 11, 2006; 9:00 AM ET  | Category:  Raising Great Kids
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

First! Ok, now can we have a good discussion today? Let's hear it for loving your kids and not being A-Hats (check with Carolyn Hax for that reference)!

Posted by: balance, people! | April 11, 2006 9:36 AM

In my experience, one of the most significant challenges is getting older teenagers (15-18) to open up and talk to you. They are growing up, and their lives are more and more independent - which is a good thing. But it means that they are increasingly talking to and confiding in their friends rather than their parents.

They are also facing more and more adult challenges, and making decisions that will affect the rest of their lives. We have found that our son will talk to us - and seems to need to talk - but he has to be in the right mood. Saying "let's sit down and talk - what's going on with your life" doesn't work. It happens when we're doing something else - going somewhere in the car, staying up late taking care of some last chores, handling some routine errands, or something else routine. Neither my wife nor I can predict when he'll open up.

The most important factor seems to be just having the time together doing regular stuff. The longer we're with him, the more likely we'll be there when he's ready to talk. This means that he ends up talking with my wife more than me, simply because I have a full-time job with a D.C. area commute; she's more often there when he's ready to talk.

Posted by: Older Dad | April 11, 2006 9:38 AM

I don't have teenagers yet, but I was one, and I'll tell you I needed my mom more in those years then I did when I was under the age of five.

This is why I plan on working to build my career and/or save money so I can be home with my daughter when she hits the teenage years. I agree with most parents that not all teenagers take drugs have sex, and cause trouble, but I don't want to take that chance.

Posted by: Scarry | April 11, 2006 9:39 AM

I'm working now with a toddler in daycare. I don't feel guilty at all about leaving him there for 8-9 hours a day because he loves it and when I'm feeling like I miss him I just go right downstairs to the center.

I was a latchkey kid with both parents working. Although I am glad my parents were working, I wish they had been able to come home earlier. I wasted a LOT of time watching Battlestar Gallectica when I should have been doing homework. (Please don't let me comments make you feel guilty if your kid is a latchkey kid-- I'm just talking about my feelings and my situation.)

So, when our kids are in their teens I'm planning to do the flex time thing and go to work really early/leave really early so I can pick them up from school. If I split this with my husband (I.e., pick up every other day), i think it'll work out great. Tempus fugit! Got to enjoy the kiddos while you got them!

Posted by: Eastern Market mom | April 11, 2006 9:43 AM

Not to divulge from the topic too much but

I think that is the ideal situation where one parent works early gets home early and the other one goes later and stays later. The problem is finding two employers that support this type of arrangment and also still having the opporunity for career advancement. Hopefully one person is an early bird and the other a nightowl

Posted by: Anonymous | April 11, 2006 9:52 AM

As a teenager, I didn't really need my parents to 'be there' _timewise_ any more than before, in fact probably much less. I had sports practice, ballet, play rehearsals, or whatever, after school every day. So my day was finishing up right around when my mother's workday was, and she or my father would come pick me up and it worked out very well.
I probably did need my parents to 'be there' _emotionally_ more. The teens are when you really start to break away from your parents and become more independent. So you spend less time together, but the time you do spend together you need your parents to really listen to you and communicate.
I'm 25 now. Just sharing my experience.

Posted by: Former Teen | April 11, 2006 9:52 AM

I am the mother of two teens-ages 16 and 15 and a 21 year old. I've always worked outside the home--it's been a necessity. My older son was great during his teen years--a few minor teen issues, but nothing major. My middle son is a great student and athlete - doesn't talk much to us at all but when he does want to talk, we make ourselves available to him. Our daughter,we called her the problem child because at ages 13-14 we had more problems out of her. She's settling into herself now and is under control. What did it take -- knowing that Mom and Dad would be there no matter what. Lots of prayer and support from friends. An understanding boss when she was suspended from school and I had to pick her up early and lots of communication with her and the school. When I was a teen, I was the good one -- never got in trouble at home or at school. Did everything I was supposed to do. Finished college, got married, started my family. Just for the record -- my mother worked my whole life.

Posted by: 3TeensatHome | April 11, 2006 9:54 AM

As a working mom of a teenage daughter I agree that what happens or not with your kids has a lot to do with how you raise them. I stayed home with my daughter 12 weeks after she was born and again for 10 months during 6th grade. I want and still want her to think clearly, chose friends wisely, and make the appropriate decisions in life. She is first in her freshmen class, plays competitive basketball, and has friends and family who love her. I can't be her buddy but I can and will always be her mom. Parents need to be there to listen, to counsel, to share and to remember. Raising a teenager is remembering what it was like. I lot of parents want to forget their teen years but
when you do, that's terrible.

Posted by: LPH | April 11, 2006 9:56 AM

Do any of you think there's a difference between boys and girls? I have a three year old son. My husband and I worry about raising him well. My husband was in a single parent home when he was a teenager (his father had passed away) and his mother was very preoccupied trying to make a living for them. He doesn't blame her, but feels that had he had more "parenting" (someone there to keep an eye on him ,lay down the lay, etc.) he would have gotten into so much trouble, he did poorly in high school and even the fist couple of years in college. His sister on the other hand was able to handle the situation better. Again, he feels this was more a result of being in a single parent home than really a working mom (We both work outside the home). My mom also felt that it was easier to raise me than my brother. Not that either of got into trouble, but I was more talkative and open, and my brother was really quiet. They always had trouble figuring out if he was ok, etc. Also, not to put a damper on the whole drugs and sex problem, what I worry about more in the long run is making sure my kids are emotionally ok. Not getting bullied, depression, anxiety, etc.

Posted by: N. in Arlington, Va. | April 11, 2006 10:15 AM

One caution I would make is to avoid the assumption that we can choose to offset the times we cannot be with our children with relatively small amounts of dedicated "quality time." Quality time can't always be planned or created (or forced). Sometimes we just have to put in enough time with our kids (or spouses) on a regular enough basis to have those quality moments. (Yes, you can also put in hours and hours of meaningless time if you're not paying attention to each other, but that's another issue.) With teenagers in particular, quality time isn't going to happen if they're not in the mood, or are distracted, or would simply rather be somewhere else with someone else.

Making the effort to have quality time is very, very important - but like many other worthwhile things in life, it can take a lot of time!

Posted by: Anonymous | April 11, 2006 10:21 AM

Both my parents worked full time when I was a teenager (and throughout my childhood) and I absolutely loved the independence I had and the trust they put in me. Granted, I earned that trust but it was a quid pro quo, the more they showed they trusted me to be home alone and to do my homework and chores and stay out of trouble, the more likely I was to do so. My parents really made an effort to focus on the kids during weekends and all vacations were with the whole family. I never felt like I had less attention than I needed from my parents. I should note too that I really wanted to go to boarding school in 9th grade but didn't and in the end was glad I had the time alone (my older siblings were out of the house) with my parents.

Posted by: CC | April 11, 2006 10:24 AM

I think the key to parenting a relatively trouble free adolescent rests in earlier childhood. Teach your child about freedom and responsibility, actions and consequences. Show them that you trust them and encourage them to value that trust. Teach them about money, how you control spending, how you save for the things you want. Be truthful and expect truthfulness in return. It is much easier to influence them at seven than seventeen. By the time they start driving you'll really have nothing to rely on except their honesty and good judgement. Work to provide them with as much of those two things as possible.

Posted by: WG | April 11, 2006 10:25 AM

3TeensatHome: What did it take -- knowing that Mom and Dad would be there no matter what. Lots of prayer and support from friends. An understanding boss when she was suspended from school and I had to pick her up early and lots of communication with her and the school.

I could have written your post. I have two adult daughters, 24 and 20. My 24 was easy going and her troubles were few and one-dimensional. My 20 year old was troubled to the nth degree. Without a dad around (he died) my life partner treaded lightly as a step-dad.

What it took was the love, constant support and never giving up on her - my precious neighbors, stay-at-home and working, her teachers, my life partner, her sister, her sister's boyfriend, my family. Most importantly though was my work environment from immediate supervisors to upper management who supported and understood my need to sometimes, be late or leave early. They appreciated my work and the extra effort I always made to make up for my brief absences. They NEVER argued or were derisive about my need to be a "present" parent.

My daughter is a wonderful, accomplished poet now, lives on her own, supports herself and will be starting college this fall.

Huge Kudos to Fairfax County Gov't and to my daughter for their support and for her ability to overcome her problems.

Bottom line -- working parents and stay-at-home parents don't do it alone.

Posted by: Mom in Columbia, MO | April 11, 2006 10:31 AM

After spending 15 years working in offices, I now work at home. I have a 16 year old and a 9 year old who are doing well, and have done pretty well with both arrangements. For me, though, there's significant peace of mind because I'm here when they get home, more available when they need me, and even when they don't. I like that I can make it to the school play or bring the dog to school for the book report, that I can play chauffeur more often, particularly as they reach middle and high school and extracirriculars increase. If there is a good time to be around, I think it's now.

Posted by: STLMom | April 11, 2006 10:49 AM

Getting teens to talk is easy if you have let them talk all of their lives.Listen and don't shut them up, your kids will be outgoing and comfortable talking to anyone, even adults.I have teens 17 and 14 both very talkative kids who are happy.I have been lucky to have been at home with them the entire time.Working parents can do this too, just let them talk. The teen years have been as wonderful as the todler years,I love these big kids, their friends, and all of the activity of youth.Interest your kids in the band program at your school.This is a wonderful way to build a healthy social network and keeps them busy with lots of fun things to do.Let them talk but keep them busy and you will love the teen years.

Posted by: em | April 11, 2006 10:58 AM

I'm fascinated by how kids (and people in general) differ. Our son was always talkative as a child, but very shy. He really does talk with us much less than he used to(except on those occasions when he happens to be in the mood to open up). He's also not a "joiner" - we have consistently encouraged him to get involved in a variety of extracurricular activities, but there have been very few things we was actually willing to do. We found from experience that if he really didn't want to do something, there was no benefit from forcing him into it (though in retrospect, I do wish we'd push a bit harder in a couple of instances).

Our daughter, on the other hand, is very outgoing and sociable. She is a joiner, and is doing just about everything possible (and loving it).

We are learning that it's very, very important to give each child what they need - not what a generic child needs, or what you think they should want. (Having said that, I do think there are some things - like time, attention and encouragement - that everyone needs, adult or child).

Posted by: Older Dad | April 11, 2006 11:17 AM

Last fall my wife and I threw a "Let's Party At Our House gig. One of the concerned mothers busted 3 teenage girls helping themselves to a wine cooler. She immediately stomped outside and pitched them a buzz-killing fit. The guilty party of daughters belonged to my brother, a close friend, and me, who share the same parenting trait that we are not overly concerned about our teenagers drinking in their own back yard. I lectured my daughter, however, that we had guests over that disapprove of that kind of behavior, and by getting caught by one of them constituted poor judgement on her behalf. And persons who excersize poor judgement certainly shouldn't be drinking. Had she simply snuck a bottle into the bathroonm and poured it into a party cup, and drank it discretely, she could have had her fun and avoided the embarrasement.
We established 3 rules from this lesson:
1. Don't get caught at school with alcohol or drugs. The punishments seek to destroy you many times over than the activity.
2. Never, ever, ever drink and drive: You live in Fairfax, you WILL get caught.
3. Never break more than 1 law at a time, and thats a good rule of thumb anywhere you go.
With lots of prayer and by following these 3 simple rules, I'm sure she'll turn out just fine.

Posted by: Father of 4 | April 11, 2006 12:03 PM

Father of 3: "Never break more than 1 law at a time"?

What kind of life lesson is that? Do you really mean to imply that it's o.k. if you only break one?

Please, please, please - do the rest of us parents a favor. When we ask what our kids will be doing if they attend a party at your house, fess up to allowing "discrete" teenage drinking. Those of us who want to protect our kids from drinking and drugs need to know, so we can say "no."

Posted by: Anonymous | April 11, 2006 12:08 PM

father of 4 writes: "The guilty party of daughters (drinking at home) belonged to my brother, a close friend, and me, who share the same parenting trait that we are not overly concerned about our teenagers drinking in their own back yard." ah, father of 4--in previous posts seeking to inflame, and in this post seeking to disparage a 'concerned mother' who busted 3 kids in a 'buzz-killing fit'. What else does 'father of 4' condone in his own house, yet excoriate others for? He has laws of his own ('don't break more than one law at a time) yet provokes others. Buddy, DRINKING IS DRINKING at a party when you invite others with different morals. YOU are liable as the host if something happened while conducting a party at your home. And trust me, "close friend" would be the first to sue you if something did. So, why are you so blase about this when the downside is so great? What a role model for your kids you are ('don't get caught, I didn't, wink wink).

Posted by: PA parent | April 11, 2006 12:16 PM

Father of 4: You forgot one more lesson.

4) It's ok to sneak drink as long as you don't get embarassed.

I'm sorry, but this is the kind of parent that has encouraged me to work part time when my child hits middle school. I was a teenager once, and after school we all went to either 1) the house where there were no adults home, or 2) the house with the most lenient and/or dumbest parents. I don't think that my daughter is going to necessarily be coming home and have wild parties. I just want to make sure that she and her friends don't have the opportunity to do it at my house.

Posted by: Working_Mom | April 11, 2006 12:18 PM

I was the original wild teen - into everything, in trouble constantly, and my mother worked three jobs and couldn't control me. I was terrified my teens would be the same. I work at home, so I could keep an eye on them, but it made no difference. They were just good kids - never drank, smoked, or did drugs. Was it because we live in France and believe me, it is easier to raise kids here? Or was it because I was there to talk to them and be there for them?
I don't have any idea, but I would stay home again with my teens given a choice.

Posted by: Jennifer | April 11, 2006 12:37 PM

Okay, once again I'm going to ask everyone to ignore Father of 4. He is just trying to get us riled up. Don't give him the satisfaction of a response, please.

Posted by: Reminder | April 11, 2006 12:38 PM

Way to go Father of 4 (a.k.a. Pavlov). You got them barking again. Don't these people ever read the posts to see that you do this every day.

Insecure people are so easy to rile up.

Posted by: L | April 11, 2006 12:39 PM

Father of 4, you forgot to mention:

4. If your children purchase drugs, they MUST share with you.

You want quality time? Nothing like a few bong-rips with the kiddos to get them to really open up.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 11, 2006 12:45 PM

L, could you please explain your Pavlov reference to the rest of us? Maybe I'm a little dense, but I don't get.

Pavlov conditioned a dog to salivate when he rang a bell. What does this have to do with Father of 4?

Posted by: Please explain? | April 11, 2006 12:49 PM

My parents both worked all my life. All Chinese parents do. It's not a big deal. You still have the weekend and evenings.

Posted by: Chao | April 11, 2006 12:52 PM

Please Explain,
I think you have it figured out. Read your post again.

Posted by: L | April 11, 2006 12:56 PM


What you need to realize, is that all of us white people are spoiled. We have more money and resources than the rest of the world, and yet we can still find something to complain about. We want our cake, but we feel we have the right to eat it too!

And why not? We're Americans; don't we deserve the best?!

Maybe we'd be a lot happier if we didn't take all the luxuries we have for granted. I'm just glad I don't have to schlep water 10 miles round trip just so I can cook dinner, but that's just me.

Posted by: Life from another perspective | April 11, 2006 1:02 PM

The problem in America is that we spoil our children and we are lazy parents by not making them do what they are supposed to do.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 11, 2006 1:10 PM

No, I still don't get it. Father of 4 has conditioned all of us to salivate when he posts some outlandish comment? (Oh, so that's where all this drool is coming from.) Sorry, it still doesn't make any sense to me.

Posted by: PE | April 11, 2006 1:11 PM

However, I agree with "Older Dad" that we, as parents, must realize what it is our children are best at and what they really like and encourage them to pursue these interests in a constructive manner.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 11, 2006 1:13 PM

Going through menopause while raising teenagers is for the birds!

Posted by: Anonymous | April 11, 2006 1:22 PM

I have worked outside the home since my son was 3 months old. My husband and I practice "tag team" parenting. We remained flexible about which of us would handle duties related to our son. Well, our little one is about to graduate from high school and attend Penn State University. He has plenty of friends (I know because I have to shop for groceries constantly), is heavily involved in classical music, and, I am told, is a delight in the classroom. While he has faults (like he really hates doing class busy work), I am proud of the person he has become--comfortable to be himself regardless of peer pressure.

Posted by: Laurel Mom | April 11, 2006 1:36 PM

Several thoughts on my last post
1. Everyone at the party was having a great time until 1 person decided to get on her high horse and throw a tantrum. The parents of all three girls that were imbibing were at the party and I think it is reasonable to expect that the parents are completely capable of supervising their own teenagers. Had she just alerted one of the parents, the ugly scene could have been avoided; however, she embarrassed herself more than anything.
2. It is wise to have adult supervision for your teenager at all times, but should also be able to trust them. By smothering them, you may actually be pushing them away. It's also a good idea to invite the parents of your teenagers friends' over to your party.
3.Some teenagers are just perfect. For those of you that actually own one, it's simple enough just to tell them not to break the rules. Boom! Done! You are good to go!
But for those of us that own a teenager that throughout their entire life have broken rules, I think it's better to teach them risk assessment. In other words, it's a crime to drive with a dead inspection sticker. But it's stupid to speed at the same time.
4. Before you let your teenager smoke pot at your house, you should first check it out for yourself and make sure its safe!

Posted by: Father of 4 | April 11, 2006 1:38 PM

What L meant was that each time Father of 4 posts, he incites a flurry of outraged responses to what he's saying

Posted by: Explanation | April 11, 2006 1:41 PM

Thanks Explanation,
I thought that we all understood metaphors.

Posted by: L | April 11, 2006 1:43 PM

Father of 4 has illustrated for us why it is important not just to meet and get to know your teenagers' friends, but the parents of those friends as well.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 11, 2006 1:44 PM

FWIW, I think myself sane, and I happen to agree with Father of 4 on his stance. This isn't a Pavlov day.

Adult life IS about risk assessment, and the time to teach that is during the teenage years. When you are an adult in the real world (whether the business world or a home-world that is not some perfect santized 1950s suburbia) your world includes choices. You can choose to do something illegal (like speeding) when you think you won't get caught. When you do get caught, as an adult, you accept responsibility and punishment. It would be pollyanna-ish to tell your child not to break any rule or law in any circumstance. What about jaywalking? What about Civil Disobedience? What about "thou shalt not kill" versus following orders as a soldier?

Some of you may want to raise perfect kids. Some of us want to raise well-adjusted people who can make decisions without obsessing, and react to whatever consequences those decisions have.

Posted by: I agree this time | April 11, 2006 2:04 PM

To "I agree this time":

Come on - you can't establish a moral equivalence between a teenager flouting underage drinking laws because dad doesn't seem to be paying attention, or doesn't seem to care, and civil disobedience such as that practiced by the great civil rights leaders or the decision some make to declare themselves concientious objectors.

Drinking has very real dangers, and our society has made the very rational choice to establish a minimum drinking age. Failing to drink in a social setting (I'm intentionally leaving out any discussion of certain religious observances here) does not perpetuate any injustice, or constitute "selling out" to some greater evil.

A just and orderly society requires laws that are both honored and enforced. The fact that any system of laws is imperfect does not change that fact. Nor does the occasional need for thoughtful adults of good will to oppose specific legal injustices. Teaching a child that obedience to law is optional based on their preferences and personal views about what the law should be (as opposed to what it is) is harmful to the child, because society will enforce its laws. It's also undermines the social compact that makes a society based on law work.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 11, 2006 2:18 PM

And here's the thing, teenagers will do what they really want to do, whether someone's home or not. I mean, in cars, in other people's houses, in school, wherever. I think your best bet is to try to raise them with good values and teach them to be decent human beings with respect for other people. My parents raised three daughters, all of whom are happy, well adjusted, good people (if I do say so myself). When I asked my dad how they managed to do it, he told me raising kids is a crapshoot and it is a combination of a lot of love and a little luck.

Posted by: Anna | April 11, 2006 2:19 PM

Crapshoot, yes. But the stakes are important enough to make it worthwhile to do everything you can to load the dice . . . ;-)

Posted by: Anonymous | April 11, 2006 2:23 PM

My two are now 20 and 23, I am a single mom so always worked outside the home. When their teenage years approached I was really scared, but actually I think I enjoyed those years as much as any others. Yes there were some problem times - for a time when my son and his friends were getting into too much trouble after school, I altered my work schedule to go to work really early and be home after school. Actually one of my haunting memories was driving in to work before dawn on Sept 11 2001 and seeing the WTC blinking in the dark (I worked in Hoboken then)... not knowing it would go down a few hours later.

But mostly I just enjoyed the company of my kids and their friends and the unpredictable adventure and time of growth teen years are. I tended to be home and around every evening and mostly all weekend and saw some of their friends more than their (undivorced) parents did. Some of them used to complain to me especially that their fathers had no time for them... one I recall saying that even when she was with him, he was on his cell phone all the time. And I was kind of appalled that some boys seemed to be totally on their own and floating around all weekend, night and day.

I never expected to get along with teenagers as well as I seemed to, I wasn't really "one of them" at all, and didn't really go out of my way to involve myself in what they were doing. But I listened when they wanted and fed them and drove them places when necessary, and didn't mind their noise. Seemed to work out well.

I think teenagers are great really... well kids of all ages are but at that age there is so much going on for them! Some of the friends are still "my" kids and I am glad to know them. As well as my own two real kids of course!

I think that it is good to just try to roll with what happens and do your best. And also I think good NOT to be judgemental right away if things go wrong for someone else's kid... I've seen it happen that parents seem to be doing all the right things and "stuff" happens anyway, you kind of have to be humble and realize that you can only try your best and no one has the perfect formula, sometimes teens will have problems no matter what you do. And then you have to just pick up and go from there, you kind of learn on the fly.

Posted by: Catherine | April 11, 2006 2:25 PM

Look, I'm not saying raising children isn't an incredibly important task. But I wonder quite frankly if some people take it too seriously. I'm sure someone will get on my case about it, but many of the parents I deal with need to lighten up. We act like the tiniest decisions are going to have these far-reaching implications. People go way overboard these days with everything from birthday parties to test preparation to job applications. I think most kids would be better off if we let go a bit.

Posted by: Anna | April 11, 2006 2:33 PM

Anna, I'm reacting to the discussion of teen drinking. I agree that any given party, test, class or after-school activity is unlikely to determine a child's fate (assuming it doesn't result in something seriously self-destructive such as drinking, drug use, pregnancy). We should all try very hard to not sweat the little stuff - I'm just still a bit rattled by parents who appear to not sweat the big stuff either.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 11, 2006 2:36 PM

Perhaps underage drinking is yet another hot-button topic. My parents let me drink in our house, even as a teenager, as long as I didn't drive or do anything stupid, because 1. They trusted me, and wanted me to know this; 2. They wanted me to learn about alcohol and its effect in a safe environment. Because of this, there was no "forbidden fruit" element of drinking and I never binged in college. I was always aware that if I abused their trust many of these privileges would be taken away, and so I was very careful not to abuse their trust.

I've heard that Europe has much less binge drinking and alcohol problems, perhaps because they learn to drink responsibly, legally, at the dinner table with their parents as teens rather than illegally as college students.

Posted by: moderate drinker | April 11, 2006 2:38 PM

Moderate Drinker,

that's a reasonable observation. Given the level of problem drinking in this country - and teen drinking in particular - I believe most parents of teens would urge that teens not be allowed to drink. Allowing it at a party is particularly problematic, because other people's kids will be there, and most of their parents will not want them drinking. On balance, I think that's wise. We lose far too many of our teens to drinking and driving to mess around with it. In our culture - for whatever reason - the likelihood of alcohol abuse is statistically associated with beginning to drink at a younger age.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 11, 2006 2:42 PM

In my family of 7, we were allowed to drink wine or champagne at holidays or special dinners. I also remember having sips of beer sometimes when we lunched at my grandparents. The only real rule we ever had regarding alcohol was to never ever drive drunk or get in a car with a drunk driver. And we never did. I wasn't really into drinking in high school, but my older sister and brother were -- not at school or anything, but they did their share of partying -- and my parents kind of looked the other way. I think it was considered a rite of passage to some extent. But none of us have problems with alcohol, and I intend to raise my children with the same relaxed attitude as they grow up. I would never serve alcohol at an underage party or offer it to someone else's child at my house (or my own if we weren't at home). It's the forbidden things that aren't openly discussed with your kids that are a problem.

Posted by: Tia | April 11, 2006 2:50 PM

I am a father of two wonderful children - a girl who is now 26 and a boy who is 21. Let me assure you these two amazing human beings had their normal challenges. And there is no truth to the rule that you can predict behavior based on gender. These people are individuals. And as such, these individuals have unique and individual behaviors and circumstances. Some will talk with you about their problems and others won't. Some will follow the rules and others see rules as things to be challenged. Some will seek out great friends, and others will hook up with trouble- makers. As parent, we must expect this and plan on it as a fact of life.

My wife and I worked for the majority of their childhood. But whatever free time we had, weekends, nights, holidays, etc., we made sure we were involved in their lives and their interests. We also set reasonable boundaries and made sure they understood them. We also made exceptions to our rules as they learned more responsibility and exercised more freedom. We also made sure they understood that our trust was earned. Our trust wasn't a function of their age - it was a consequence of their behavior, and behaviors have both positive and negative consequences. Be liberal with re-enforcing the good behaviors. This buids even more confidence and trust.

There is no set time that involvement can happen. And you can't always plan on the exact time they may need you. And as a matter of fact, not always being available at a moment's notice did provide opportunities for them to take on more responsibility. So the time they arrive home from school is just that, a period of time during the day. The time you spend with them when they are playing basketball, or football, or doing their homework, is an opportunity to show them you care about them and they can trust you to be interested in their lives. That makes all the difference in the world when raising children to be caring and responsibile adults. In order for them to be caring and responsible, they have to feel you cared and you had to demonstrate responsibility toward them regardless of when the opportunity presented itself.

It's a simple rule, children understand and accommodate the fact that as parents we can't be with them all of the time. But what they won't accept is that when we are with them or when an issue occurs, that we don't care or won't pay attention to them when our guidance or support is really needed.

Posted by: Mike | April 11, 2006 2:59 PM

My main rule is that my teenage daughters are only allowed to have oral sex until they are 16 and anal sex until they are 18.

Posted by: hotmommy | April 11, 2006 3:11 PM

I like today's discussion. No talk about whether mothers should work or stay at home. During the teen years, it doesn't matter that much. The kids are in school from 8-3 and participating in activities from 3-6. The difference between staying at home and working is marginal. What really counts is that they are taught values.

At this time in a child's life (teen years) it is really up to the parents whether to work or not. It is not a decision that is going to have an impact on the child's long-term success.


Posted by: L | April 11, 2006 3:22 PM

have a 13 year old and 10 year old stepkids. My wife cut back to a 35 hour week to not allow the 13 year old to be home more then 30-45 minutes in the afternoon after the bus drops him off. He refused to go to the middleschool Y program after about november so she adjusted her schedule. The 10 year old loves the Y after school care and chews me out if I pick her up too early. Her best friends are there and woe betide the parent who comes before 5:00 PM

Posted by: Chet | April 11, 2006 3:26 PM

Hey, for the record, I won't get to teach my kids a healthy disrespect for the rule of law -- their mom is a lawyer. I'm guessing the anonymous respondent was also a lawyer.

I'm just saying, as I think Father of 4 may also have been saying, that if you consider breaking a law, you need to assess the risk of a huge negative outcome. Sorry if the Civil Disobedience example offended or annoyed anyone.

As for "A just and orderly society requires laws that are both honored and enforced. The fact that any system of laws is imperfect does not change that fact." This concept is too far afield for me to debate on this board, but I've debated this time and again with my wife and best friend - both lawyers. I simply disagree. How would you ever evolve the laws (made, by definition, by the ruling class) into something approximating Justice, if these laws are "honored" or otherwise deified? Even the adversarial system already in place recognizes that. To tie back to our topic here today, I'll do my best to teach my teen to be a thinker, to respectfully question authority (including me) and to respectfully tell truth to power (including to me). My teen won't get to violate the rights or space of others, but will carefully consider those rules/laws which are meant to govern his own rights or space. Here's to hoping I don't raise a cult or militia leader ;-)

Posted by: I agree this time | April 11, 2006 3:36 PM

L, I don't have a problem understanding metaphor, so long as the metaphor actually resembles the thing it's describing.

The significance of Pavlov's experiments is that a dog salivating at the sound of a bell is not a *natural* physical reaction to such simulus. Because food had often been introduced by the ringing of the bell, the dog had begun to associate the sound with food, hence the excess of saliva.

On the other hand, the negative reaction Father of 4 receives from his intentionally inflammatory posts IS a *natural* reaction. He has certainly not *conditioned* any of us to respond in the manner that we do. In fact if *anyone* posted comments similar to his, they too would receive a less than receptive reaction. Am I wrong? So there really isn't any conditioning, is there?

I don't mean to quibble about this. I just think it's a bad idea to try to insult somebody with a term you don't truly understand.

Posted by: PE | April 11, 2006 3:55 PM

Please don't tell us that you have been thinking about this for the last three hours since the original posting. Don't take it too seriously.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 11, 2006 3:59 PM

Calm down. It's okay. I'm alright. I went to lunch, and I came back. I just finished cathing up.

I haven't spent 3 hours worrying about you, and your weak metaphors. I have much more important things to do with my life.

Posted by: PE | April 11, 2006 4:04 PM

That's supposed to read "catching" up.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 11, 2006 4:06 PM

I have to agree that allowing teenagers to drink at parties with adult supervision is better than forcing them to sneak around. Let's face it teenagers are going to experiment. When I was a teenager one of my friends parents had the same philosophy as Father of 4. We could drink at thier home if we followed a couple of simple rules. The most important being that if you drank you had to stay the night. No leaving, driving, or getting into trouble after having drank at thier home. My friends and I typically ended up at thier house after every school dance, including prom. The parents were around and would check up on us. A few times they cut off the supply when someone had had too much but most of the time there was no problem. My mother knew that I drank when at my friends house and she trusted me to be responsible about it, plus knowing that there were adults around but her mind at ease.

The other popular place to party in my school was about a 5 mile drive out into the country to a clearing in some woods. There were some pretty wild happenings out there and I know kids were driving drunk all the time.

So if you're a parent which place would you chose for your children to experiment?

When my kids are teenagers I plan to have the same open house policy. With the added rule that I talk to thier friends parents and let them know what my house rules are. I'd rather have my kids drink where I know they are safe.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 11, 2006 4:44 PM

I found the adolescents in Europe to be twice as mature as even the college students here in the States. I always assumed this was because the kids were given more responsibility at a younger age, and therefore learned to control their urges rather than indulge them.

I was particularly struck by events at a house party I attended in France. Although there was plenty of booze available, it was quite clear that being visibly intoxicated was generally frowned upon. When one young gentleman drank too much and began acting like a fool, everyone physically distanced themselves from him and expressed disdain at his behavior.

This was in sharp contrast to the many keg parties I've attended here in the US, in which it's considered "cool" to drink to the point of vomiting or passing out.

Posted by: Just my 2 cents | April 11, 2006 5:05 PM

"How would you ever evolve the laws (made, by definition, by the ruling class) into something approximating Justice, if these laws are "honored" or otherwise deified?"

We honor our parents, but that's a far cry from "deified." When I'm in my Dad's house, I do things his way - even though I'm now old enough to be protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. That doesn't mean I always agree with him, or that I never tell him I disagree with him. He is my dad, though, and deserves respect as such.

Similarly, we have a solid constitutional system, with an elected legislature and a strong court system. I respect and abide by the laws that have been enacted. That doesn't mean that I don't disagree with some; I do, and it affects the way I vote. Honoring the law in no way prevents us from working to change it. Nor does it somehow mean that our society is going to become rigid and calcified. It simply means that we play by the rules - even when we're working to change the rules.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 11, 2006 5:06 PM

Big deal, so Please Explain is not the sharpest tool in the shed. Let's see if he/she understands that metaphor, and then let's all move on.

Posted by: Seriously | April 11, 2006 5:11 PM

Seriously, for the sake of avoiding a needless argument, I'm just going to let you think you're right.

Posted by: PE | April 11, 2006 5:22 PM

>He is my dad, though, and deserves respect as such.

I'm curious to know if this rule applies to a father who abuses his child. Is that child still obligated to honor their father, because he is their father?

I think this is a good analogy for a govt that abuses its power. In this regard a healthy distrust of authority is healthy and necessary.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 11, 2006 5:25 PM

This is an interesting discussion today. I was born and raised in Europe so can provide a bit of a different perspective. In my mid-teens, my parents told me that I could freely drink and smoke as long as that happened in front of them. I tried both and didn’t like it. I think having my parents be liberal about this was a big determinant of my future behaviour. They both worked full time and I don’t see that affecting me in any way. I think a big part of the problem here is that children have way too much. I never had a car (neither did my parents); I never had a TV in my room (and my 2-year old will not when she grows up); and I never had the opportunity to watch TV during the day as there was no broadcast during the day in the former communist countries.

I am not complaining here. I think I had an excellent upbringing; got an excellent education and subsequently a very good job.

So, really just try to relax a bit and don’t push your children too much.

Posted by: VE | April 11, 2006 5:30 PM

VE: Thanks for bringing some common sense to this blog. It's so refreshing to hear someone with such a practical view of childraising.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 11, 2006 5:32 PM

I work from home because I know the difference it can make in the lives of children, especially teenagers.

I have 7 children and four of them have had the experience of mom working outside the home during their youth and teenage years. Ask your kids what they prefer and you will be surprised to find that they want their moms home.

Being at the crossroads and there for their goings and comings can make all the difference and you and they might not even realize that until years later!

If you have a choice stay home or do what I did and find a way to work from home.

Marta aka 'da momma'

Posted by: Marta Wells | April 11, 2006 5:46 PM

Father of 4 is really off the mark. Why encourage drinking, or allow it (especially wine coolers, they're awful!) at home?

My neighbor's son went to a party where the parents were home, and they provided alcohol. (Other parents weren't notified about the alcohol in advance). The kids were in the basement, unsupervised (17 and 18) for an evening.

First of all, it defies common sense, if for no other reason than the idea of legal liability. What if someone gets hurt, as happened in this case? My neighbor's son ended up in the emergency room after roughhousing and hitting his head on a pool table. Yes, it could have happened without the alcohol, but chances are it would not have.

Or what if the injuries are worse (forcible rape for example?)

I just think there's a time to grow up. We are not teens anymore. Yes, I drank as a teen (the drinking age was 18 then). I did a lot of things that could have turned out worse than they did. But, my parents were not there egging me on to do those stupid things.

Nor were they providing me with alcohol. They rarely drank anyway. Just wine during the holidays. And, an occasional drink when guests came to visit.

In fact, when I talk to my son about drinking, I basically tell him that he has to be more careful than other people, since there are alcoholics on both sides of the family (his greatgrandparents, an aunt and uncle).

He is allowed to taste wine at dinner when we do have it (16 years old), but he's never accepted.

It's true, you can't protect kids from all that is wrong with the world, but you can give them encouragement in doing the right and healthy thing.

Posted by: Joy | April 11, 2006 6:58 PM

There is something to be said for the European approach, though I also believe in upholding the law.

In high school I was a self-proclaimed square (and God-awful self-righteous about it, in retrospect). Got to college, started dating one of my closest friends shortly thereafter. Got in a car with him one night after he'd polished off a pint of vodka by himself after performing in a symphony in which he'd had a demanding role. He was drunk as a skunk and I HAD NO CLUE. He was a little goofy and he got the car stuck in the mud while parking, but I didn't know he was three sheets to the wind. I was 19. I should have known. Scares the daylights out of me to this day that I could have been that ignorant -- and dead -- due to my naivete.

I shared this story with my 14 & 15 yo kids to stress the importance of a) making good decisions and b) knowing how to spot trouble if you see it.

Posted by: Derwood Mom | April 11, 2006 6:58 PM

Our kids are 12, 10 and 7, and I have always worked outside of the home. I have been the primary wage earner in the family.
I am finding now as the kids get older that I need to be there more, if not for the emotional part of it, for the actual part of someone being there to make sure that homework and chores get done. As the kids get more and more busy, these things fall by the wayside, unless there is someone consistently available to ensure that they are done.
I also notice that behavior problems escalate in direct proportion to the amount of dedicated time our kids get (or don't get) from us. Being home and on the computer does not work. Being home and monitoring, reinforcing and referee-ing is what needs to happen.

Before, when my kids were little, anyone who met our standards could watch them.

Now, as they are reaching the teen years, I feel strongly that we need to be the ones to be there for them. They don't need watching as much as they need guiding, and no-one can guide them to be the human beings we want them to be better than us (well, with a little help from others!).

Posted by: Esther | April 12, 2006 6:33 PM

It is generally, from my experience, that teenagers would not be 'terrible' if their parents understood how to parent them at all.

It's a difficult transition from a pre-teen/child, where bedtimes are dictated and everything from getting dressed to snacktime, is heavily regulated (I am speaking in general terms, and yes there will always be exceptions). This regulation is necessary for a child to learn what is Right and what is Wrong and what Proper Behavior looks like. As far as the parent is concerned, anyway.

But when kids hit middle school, they began to care more about the others around them than their parents, and parents begin to do the opposite of what they should be doing, and crack down.

Freedom gives teens less interest in rebelling. It's hardly a case of MOM SAID I CAN SO I'M NOT GOING TO (because that is generally not the philosophy of any teenager); it's a case of, HOW DARE YOU. How dare you hold me back when I am growing up? So don't hold them back. Teens only become terrible when their parents fight every independent decision their children make.

I cringe whenever someone says their chld is 'too opinionated'. What's wrong with that? Maybe you ought to listen.

Posted by: Terrible teens? | April 12, 2006 6:36 PM

To Terrible Teens?:

God grant that you never have a child that uses their freedom to make self-destructive life choices. Overly restrictive parents can provoke rebellion in response. We have all know kids (and adults too, for that matter) who have made incredibly foolish and destructive choices for reasons that have nothing to do with rebellion. Many times it's simply due to a disregard for consequences.

We can't live our children's lives for them - nor should we try. But we do have a responsibility to guide them as they begin to mature. Making reasonable and well thought out boundaries is part of that. Not allowing a 14 year old to drink at a party, for example, is not the same thing as saying that they are "too opinionated," nor is it stiffling their individuality.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 13, 2006 12:21 PM

Parenting a teen begins with a toddler. When a parent is there for children when they are small and working hard to train and guide their heart and appetities the teen years are awesome. I have three teens. (I still have a toddler too!) And two in between. By working diligently in the early years teaching and guiding them daily, I have experienced the joy of watching them blossom and make wise decisions as teens.

Just the other day I overheard my 15 year old son say to his day, "Dad, I need your counsel on a decision...." What a joy. He is very free to make his own decisons on many matters but desires the input of his father.

Posted by: Spunky | April 14, 2006 9:43 AM

To Anonymous:

Nowhere did I say that parents should ignore their child's behavior. I was speaking in generalized terms. As a teenager, I remember all of my friends with overprotective parents going off and drinking the second they hit NOT HIGH SCHOOL, but middle school. Middle school! And those of us with parents who said, "Find your way, but don't do something stupid," were the ones who looked at the underage drug abusers with disdain.

As always, there are exceptions. But in Europe, where drinking ages are lower, teenagers generally act less foolishly than they do here in the States. Think of Prohibition. When you say no, the temptation grows.

I said there were exceptions, but I cannot make those exceptions without going on and on and on and on. Not all teenagers are self-destructive, and I have seen dozens of parents who say, WORD-FOR-WORD, that their children are "too opinionated" whenever they say no. That is dangerous.

Nowhere did I say that guidance isn't appropriate. Inherently, most parents seem to want to keep regret out of their children's life, but that is simply not a possible feat to accomplish. Prevent whatever you want, but watch out. It can backfire.

Posted by: Terrible Teens? | April 14, 2006 10:10 PM

I have two teenagers and absolutely feel their issues demand all of my creativity and attention and caring, no different than my four-year-old (our youngest) who still likes to snuggle with me for bedtime stories.
Just this past weekend, my husband and I were really torn. We had left our 17 year old home during part of his spring break because he didn't want to miss his swim practices and assorted social events his group of friends were planning (mostly LAN parties and movie-nights -- this is a nerdish, non-drinking crowd -- although some of you may think I'm just not aware of what my son may be doing).
We called our son each morning after he returned from swim practice, and had a pleasant chat. I was a little disappointed he never called us, but he sounded busy and happy. And he had been interviewed for a paid summer internship during our absence, which he was offered and accepted, so things appeared to be going well. But the day after the job offer, he rear-ended another car (fortunately going about 5 miles/hour). I noticed he called us pretty promptly after returning home. When he saw the enormous damage he'd done to the other driver's rear bumper on her Honda Civic, I think he was shuddering at what this would do to his lifestyle.
We returned from our beach condo a day early, which was absolutely essential. My husband and son decided they could fix the headlamps on our car themselves. They put a lot of time into it, and our son paid for all the parts. His alternative was to pay for the cost of a mechanic to deal with it. He probably needed to spend the time with my husband, and to see that we're working our hardest with the other driver (whose teenagers are long-gone but had their share of accidents) to repair her car without his insurance rates going sky-high, literally to the point of being unaffordable in a family whose first child starts college in September to the tune of $45,000/annum.
It was SO worth giving up a day of vacation to be there for our son. Driving opens up a whole new world of worry with our kids, especially as road conditions have worsened since we were teenagers ourselves.
I agree with the other posters that weekends and evenings can suffice as long as you're present and available when the teenager needs your guidance. If your teenagers are involved in sports in addition to school, they're simply not home all that much Mon-Fri from 6:30 until 4:30 (in our particular son's case). Our son's forte happens to be physics/math/etc., but it's been hard to instill in him how imprudent it is too drive too fast. We have concluded that teenagers' common-sense is not all that well-developed, so they need constant surveillance!

Posted by: suzyswim | April 17, 2006 12:42 AM

I dated a man whose son lived with him from the age of 13 to 18. I got to know his son well during those years and my boyfriend and I agreed that his son, an introvert like us, actually preferred having those quiet hours after school to himself. (I did not live with them.) He was not a stellar student, but he wasn't a problem kid in any way. My boyfriend arrived home regularly around 6:15 and made dinner every night. There was stability and a regular schedule, which seemed to be just what this particular child needed and wanted.

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Posted by: John S | July 1, 2006 10:41 AM

I am a single mom of a 17 yr old boy. I have to work full time and am home around 5:30pm each day. When I was married, my husband was home at 4 pm daily. I think this 2 hrs of my sone home alone has affected him and has been bad for him. I depended on my husband when I was married to be there and that was a mistake. I wish from day 1 of school I had been the one home at 3 pm in case my son needed me. Now, I have no choice to leave him alone for 2 hrs. I really wish I had the option of working part time and had exercised it when he was younger.

Posted by: Sue Lopresti | July 30, 2006 10:48 AM

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