negotiating teen freedom at the breakfast table

My daughter and friends before Winterball last weekend....

This morning I had a lengthy post-sleepover conversation at the breakfast table with my daughter and three of her friends on the subject of their freedom (or lack thereof).  They were a little bent out of shape because they felt that I, and the other parents, had rained on their parade last night by not allowing them to loiter with boys we had never met before, and whose parents were either: a) not home, or b) I was not allowed to talk to.  Since this is a textbook example of a parental attempt to help a teen avoid the slippery slope to sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, let me outline what happened.

Thursday night my daughter requested that three of her girlfriends sleep over at my house.  I agreed to this plan knowing I would be busy all day with work and my other children, and would not have much time to prepare (go to the store and purchase potato chips and ice cream), and in spite of the fact that I had a strange feeling they had an ulterior motive (don’t they always?).  Friday night they descended upon my house.  I was out treating my older son to Pho, and my youngest boy was happily snowboarding with his ski-bus pals, but my significant other was there supervising (read: on another floor of the house paying no attention whatsoever).  During Pho, I received a text from my daughter which read “Hey so is it okay if we go hang out with our friend (name withheld) and his friend who live in the neighborhood?“.  I started to text back and realized that doing so would be a mistake.  This was not a subject I could manage through a text conversation.

I called my daughter and asked her the questions that any normal, caring, responsible parent would ask:  Who is this boy?  How do you know him?  How are you getting there? Are his parents home?  May I speak with them to confirm?  Here is the gist of the response from my daughter:

Ohmygodmom why don’t you trust me? We just wanna go hang out with some friends it’s no big deal why does everything always have to be such a big deal? Fine we’ll just come back home and sit on our beds and do our homework like we always do because we go to an all-girls school and we NEVER get to hang out with boys because you don’t trust us thanksalotmom!”

HUH?!? My internal response: “Actually I wasn’t making a big deal of it. YOU ARE. I just wanted a few facts.  Because the part of your brain that is responsible for judgement and decision-making is undeveloped and you lack experience, it is my duty to help you make good decisions.  AND THOSE BOYS WILL WANT TO HAVE SEX WITH YOU!!

My external response: “I’m sorry you feel frustrated, but since you won’t let me talk to the parents so I can be sure they are home, why don’t you invite the boys here.”

So the boys came over with their backpacks, their cologne, their Polo shirts, and their surging hormones. They sat around in the living room for a little while and awkwardly watched part of a movie with the girls and then they left, presumably to look for girls they could hang out with whose parents were NOT home.

Now let me review the highlights of the breakfast table discussion of their ruined evening.  Their perspective is that they are responsible girls who are good students and that we, their parents, are constantly up in their business.  They feel we are always suspicious when they want to be around boys, and they would really, really like to have more freedom, and especially, they would like to be alone with boys and nothing bad will happen.

My perspective (which was reinforced by one of the other moms who joined in when she came to pick up her daughter) was that it is our job as parents to help them navigate through this time in their lives so they can be ready for complete freedom in just a few years, and so they will stay safe in the meantime.  While THEY do not believe that anything “bad” is going to happen, those of us with experience KNOW that difficult and hurtful things DO happen and we believe they do NOT have enough life experience to truly understand the possibilities and the ramifications.

My boyfriend summed it up rather succinctly last night when he said to me: “Well they seemed like nice, polite boys. (pause…)  But I seemed like a nice, polite boy at that age too, and I know what I was thinking about!”  From the website of the Kinsey Institute: “In the male, the average maximum sexual frequencies for the total sexual outlets occur between ages 16 and 20”.  I will not parse this.  I have enough anecdotal evidence, and have done enough of my own “research” to believe that it is probably not an urban myth that teen boys think about sex every 15 seconds or so.(

After we argued back and forth for a bit and the girls did their best to convince me that we need to give them instant freedom to be alone in rooms with boys, and I continued to try to convince them that it was our job to keep them safe, I finally broke it out.  Here it is kids: Sex is the bomb!  It is one of the greatest things in life!  But what I wish I had known when I was their age is how emotionally charged it is, how powerful that energy is, and how wonderful it could be with the right boy at the right time, and conversely how destructive it can be with the wrong boy at the wrong time, under the wrong circumstances.  When I started going into detail, and began invoking my own experiences they were more quiet and at some point they started to do that thing that kids do when they can’t take in any more information (la la la la I CAN’T HHHEEEAAARRR YOU!)

I understand that they want to KNOW.  And they WILL know.  But I want their knowing to be gentle, and gradual, and above all, I want it to be happy, and I will fight for that for them however I am able.

Meanwhile, after we’d all left the table, I could hear the whiny voice of Katy Perry drifting from the stereo in my daughter’s bedroom, droning on endlessly about getting drunk and having a ménage à trois…

No wonder they’re conflicted.


16 thoughts on “negotiating teen freedom at the breakfast table

  1. Awesome post! I got goosebumps reading it. My girls are not where yours are yet (good call only posting their legs), and I’m DREADING what you’re going through, in part, because, as a teenager I did everything I could to get around the constraints that were placed on me. My mom was totally on it though…and you are too. You’re obviously a smart, caring, thoughtful mother. As you already know, they’ll forgive you…someday. =)

    • I too was one of those teenagers Stacie…and while it helps me to understand them better, I’m still always amazed at the things they do. It’s as if I’ve forgotten! But I do understand their struggle for independence, and I respect it, but I’m not going to cave on keeping them safe, and I’m already starting to get the feedback from my 19 year old that he’s grateful…

  2. Even though they did the LALALA I can’t hear you! , my bet is that they DID hear you and it DID sink in. It is probably quite rare for them to hear adults speak so candidly about sex. Good for you for having the courage to do so, and for making these calls even though they are trying all the tricks in their bags to encourage you to change your mind!

  3. I raised four boys and one daughter, i was also a single mum. and you are EXACTLY right. You have to have your eye on the ball ALL the time. Mercy, the conversations i had with my daughter and then her older brothers would chime in and say NO Sops. Not happening! Once and I am not kidding, she stood up and screamed at us ‘I hate you.. You are ruining my life’. There was a pause. Then everyone collapsed laughing, hysterically, boys falling to the floor howling with laughter, and after a bit sops started giggling at herself too.. three things I learned.. 1) make friends with the boys. 2) tell her if anything does go wrong (when she is pretending to sleep over at a friends place and all of your careful safety nets have ripped and she is through,) she can call you anytime, any night and you will come and collect her and bring her home, no questions asked. Asking for help is good 3) get every single phone number you can lay your hands on.. all her friends and their friends. All the mothers. Everyone. I am so sorry this got so long but your page chimed in my chest. Bringing them all home to your place is the best thing you can do. Well done.. celi

    • Excellent advice and thanks for the reinforcement Celi…My oldest boy has paved the way in some regards, but he’s a boy! So now it’s my turn to do this with a daughter and it is different…I have to admit I am more protective, but, I’ve been there myself, so it’s not completely uncharted territory. Thanks for chiming in! – Chris

  4. Good for you! My husband has sons. I used to have endless conversations with them when they were hormonal teenagers. “You do not engage in any sort of sexual activity with a girl you wouldn’t be proud to be seen in public with, holding hands walking down Main Street, waving to all of your friends. You do not engage in sexual activity until you are ready to bear the burden of fatherhood; babies are often unplanned.” We spent endless hours cruising the “parking lot”, where they weren’t supposed to be, to try to keep them out of trouble. I have nieces too so the conversation with them has been based in personal experience. Now the kids are all in their 20s, they’ve all had broken hearts, boys as quick to tears as the girls. Thankfully, there have been no pregnancies, STDs, or broken hearts requiring therapy. It’s a struggle.

    The photo is adorable, shoes and legs. There are things about these years that you will miss.

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