Our kids are making their way through their teen years, with predictable challenges for us and opportunities for them. Can you offer any ideas for better supervising their increasing social freedom?
A wise mother — in parenting, wisdom often comes through an accumulation of dumb decisions — told me her kids never went anywhere without her knowing the five Ws: Who, What, Where, When and Why.
Who will be with you? Possibly the most critical W. You don’t need to be a shrink to know kids’ choice of company powerfully effects what they’ll do, along with when, where and how much. Can you pick their friends? No, but you’d better put non-negotiable limits on their field of choices. Parenting law No. 101: Know well — very well — their friends (and their friends’ parents), and you will safeguard very well your children’s social well-being.
What will you be doing? Not what is planned, or what is happening the evening’s first hour. Kids are notorious for starting at point A, as they dutifully told you — and then, once out of sight, spontaneously adding points B, C and X to their itinerary: “But Mom, there was a change of plans.” Changing plans is like changing planes. It needs to be cleared first with the control tower.
Where are you going? Some “wheres” are simply off limits, even if the who is Biff, the school’s PTA child of the year. If you aren’t familiar with the where — often another teen’s house — get familiar. And that means more than a five-minute conversation with the other parent. Even shrinks don’t assess someone’s trustworthiness or maturity after a five-minute conversation.
When will you be home? Of course, in many instances, you will answer this one yourself. Let Dawn know that all Ws are related. The when may routinely depend upon the who, what and where. Further, a broken when will render all other Ws irrelevant for a while, as you will re-think all aspects of her social freedom.
Why are you going? Often the least verifiable of the Ws. Indeed, it may not always be that important. “Because I like being with my friends,” or some variant thereof, might be acceptable to you given Walker’s answers to the other Ws.
Then again, the activity itself may be okay, but the motive is bad. “I want to go swimming with Brooke” (a good what). “Her boyfriend, Harley, and his biker friends are meeting us there” (a very bad why).
All five Ws work in harmony. One unacceptable W can negate four acceptable ones. Also, all Ws must be affirmed with the utmost trustworthiness. Social freedom is founded upon character and judgment. It is not something that automatically accompanies age.
A former president’s advice for dealing with foreign countries applies well to monitoring teens: Trust, but verify.
Want more of Ray Guarendi’s wit and wisdom?
The doctor is in at drray.com.