A friend called me earlier this week to vent about the challenges of life with a teenager. Both of us have freshman girls and though we live hundreds of miles from each other, our experiences are similar.
The topic of the day was our girl’s new friends.
“I got so spoiled. I always knew her friends, their parents, their personality and what I could expect when they hung out together. I knew some girls were full of drama, but I never protected her from what I knew was going to happen. She had to figure it out for herself no matter how hard it was for me to sit by and watch.” She paused.
“I knew high school was going to be harder in many, many ways. But more than anything, I hear all these new names but have no ability to know who they are. If I’m lucky I’ll see a picture from Snapchat or catch a glimpse of them scurrying away from their parents’ cars in the morning. But I don’t KNOW them or have any clue about their parents and it’s just, well, it’s, I don’t know, weird!”
I could relate to what she was saying. “I think it’s hardest for us because it’s so different than what we’ve become used to. They have more independence now and I know it’s on me to trust and let go. It’s not like she’s acting different or her grades are suffering, but I agree with you, not knowing her friends is weird.”
“So, wait until I tell you what happened last week. My daughter and her friends walked to our house from school. I’ve met two of the girls before and they were polite, but on this day, there was a new girl with them. My daughter rushed into the house. “Taylor’s dad needs to meet you since we’re going to be here longer than ten minutes.” At first, I was like, what? But then of course agreed, I offered to Facetime with him if that was easier. He came by, introduced himself and confirmed I would be at the house while the girls were here. He was a nice enough guy, but it was super awkward. After he left, I questioned myself, am I being too lenient? Should I be this diligent with my daughter’s new friend’s parents? Do you remember our parents being that protective?”
Her rapid-fire questions got me thinking, there were so many pieces of this story swirling around in my head. I thought back to my Freshman year, when I too started hanging out with a new group of friends. Before sitting down to write this post, I texted my mom and asked if she had ever met their parents. “No,” she texted back, “I’m not sure I ever met them – maybe at graduation?” That’s what I thought and looking back, there was never any discussion about meeting their parents. What changed in one generation where parents feel this need to be hyper-vigilant?
We can all agree keeping our kids safe is our number one priority. From the time they are born we watch over them, slowly teaching them the skills they need to keep themselves safe. Small steps are taken, like trusting them to use a fork or play on the floor with their toys while we make dinner. They learn how to navigate social skills by watching, listening, experimenting and correcting behaviors. When we teach them how to ride a bike, they literally take safety into their own hands. There will be bumps, bruises and skinned knees along the way, but we always teach them to get back up and try again.
Looking back at the early years, it’s easy to find these examples. We have many proud memories of the “first” time they did this or that. These were accomplishments we encouraged, cheered and pushed our little ones to stretch a little more, knowing they could do it. We were teaching them to take care of themselves but, didn’t realize we had our own conditions attached.
Few parents are prepared. The day comes when your child goes off to school or to a sleepover with a friend or on a class trip and you must trust you have done enough. It is out of your hands. Your child is now responsible for their own safety and well-being. You will likely think they are not ready. You will likely still want to protect them, but it is time to loosen the reigns. It’s not fair for us to have cheered and pushed their success only to clamp down at their first chance to put it all into practice.
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I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.