Frank Plantan objected to last week’s post, stating,
I thought at first that your worries were that [my son] overstayed his visit to his girlfriend’s by several hours, that her parents weren’t home and wondering what would you do when her father called a couple months from now saying she was pregnant. Usually, when a teen “forgets” to leave and lets a couple hours get away from them in such a situation that’s (or a variation) what most parents might be worried about (including all of us who “trust our kids”).
A friend of mine who used to run a business would tell employees, “You can leave your wallet out on your desk; I won’t touch it. Personal emails on your computer — no problem; I won’t look. But don’t ever leave your lunch where I can see it — it won’t be there when you get back. I have no control whatsoever.”
Which is to say that trust is relative, and Frank Plantan is probably right to put scare quotes around the term “trust our kids.” No one is 100% trustworthy, and like my friend, many — especially children and adolescents — require help in reining in their impulses, which can wreak damage far more serious than a stolen cheese sandwich.
And of course I worry about unplanned pregnancies, STDs, and a lot more. At the same time, I don’t want to give my son the message that he’s not to be trusted around girls simply because he’s a sixteen-year-old boy. He has never given me any reason to believe that he is having unprotected sex. We’ve talked about sex, birth control, the tragedy of unwanted pregnancy, and a woman’s right to choose—including the right to choose to have the baby, which would obligate him to at least financial support, and, if he’s a decent human being (which he is) emotional and practical involvement as well. He knows all this stuff. He understands that a slip could very well mean the end of his music dreams.
But I grew up with a friend whose father monitored her every move around boys. He openly exhibited suspicion of every boy who came near her. He monitored her clothing and makeup, forcing her to wear “proper,” i.e., calf-length, dresses and minimal makeup at an age when the “mod” look dominated, including miniskirts and pop-art eye makeup. If she came home late from a rare date, he would scream at her that she was a “slut.” The whole situation was, frankly, creepy. And none of this stopped her from being sexually active. She was desperate to belong, and eager to rebel against her father’s strictures, and the result was an early pregnancy and unhappy first marriage.
If kids are determined to have sex, they are going to find places to do it. My generation certainly didn’t wait around for someone’s parents to be away from home; there were the backseats of cars, obscure corners of the park in good weather (or even not-so-good weather), abandoned buildings, and so on. Several years ago I worked in an elementary school where it was common for fifth graders to meet on the stair landings for oral sex.
Ben knows very well that as much as I would love grandchildren, I want him to finish his education and get established in a career he likes first, because too often it doesn’t work the other way. I know that his smart, adorable girlfriend also has career and life aspirations. They both have all the information they need to make responsible choices. He knows he can always talk to me about anything.
Beyond that, I think the healthiest thing I can do is keep my nose out of his love life.