When our kids are small, it's easy to impose limits and set rules because, well, they're physically smaller than us and we can pretty much inflict our desire at will. If I can pick you up and have the power to rock you to sleep, things are easy. Meal times, food choices, play date partners, all of these things are almost completely within parental control. I put the food down, you eat it, I tuck you in, you sleep, I drive you to Sarah's house to play because her mom feeds you a healthy lunch as opposed to simply leaving an econo-size tub of Nutella within reach. It's understood that all the things we did (and will do) are in our children's best interest. Sure, there are struggles and complications sometimes but generally speaking between the ages of 0-12 most kids are ultimately under our control.
Listen up, parents of babies and toddlers: These early years are special times, but don't get used to it. By the time my daughter was 13 there was just no way I could keep up the good fight, and believe me, I tried. Starting high school means less parental control and no freshmen are going to welcome their parents on a school field trip or as a classroom volunteer as willingly as their elementary school counterpart. I didn’t win any points offering to chaperone the grade nine welcome dance and when I expressed interest in joining the parent council at high school...well, if looks could kill and all that. It’s hard being cut-off at the knees like this, because class trips and functions were where I would normally do my "scouting" missions to observe the inter-personal relational ships between students. This method worked well for ten years and I swear by it: from JK to grade 8 I knew the name, general background and Myers Briggs personality type of every kid who spent more than an hour a day with my daughter.
Now in high school, she comes home and talks at length to kids who I've never heard of, let alone seen. Jess, Brittany, Valerie... Who ARE these people? My requests to see their Facebook profiles or Twitter accounts go unheeded and any questions about what their parents do for a living are met with a hearty eye-roll and a door slam. I swear I even once heard a muffled "Jeeeesus Christ, Mother..." from inside her bedroom after I asked if she knew who Kara’s mother voted for in the last federal election.
It's hard when this stuff is "none of your business" anymore. She still has friends she's made and kept for the last 10 years, but with so many new ones in the mix I’m having some trouble keeping them straight. My teen won’t review the “New Friends” flow chart I pieced together and until I meet them personally they’re all potential murders/arsonists as far as I'm concerned. Former "dates" like walks to the ice cream store with a friend I’ve known for years — had sleep in my house, even — are now day-long visits to out of town shopping malls with surly teenagers I’ve met once and still don’t know a thing about. But she’s 15 years old and when I think back to what I did at 15 I should probably be more thankful she’s not climbing out windows and rolling her own cigarettes.
But still. How do you get to know the people your children are spending their day with when you’re trying desperately to retain control while loosening the tethers that hold them to childhood?
This teenager shit is hard, you guys.