A few days ago, a Bethesda, Md., high school principal begged parents to stop playing host to teenage parties that featured alcohol. According to a Washington Post story, Walt Whitman High School Principal Alan Goodwin sent an email to parents on Nov. 6 saying, “Parents, as we get close to another weekend, please do not host an underage drinking party as apparently some of you did last weekend. This must stop.”
Before we had kids, none of us think we’ll become those parents, the ones who don’t seem to notice when their child runs amok in a restaurant, breaks the china knickknack, or smears sticky substances on your silk blouse. I doubt any parent would gaze into their newborn son or daughter’s eyes and say, “We love you so much that when you’re in high school, Mommy and Daddy will let you drink beer, wine or even hard liquor in our own home, with your friends!”
If we didn’t start out with the intention of becoming a parent who would turn a blind eye—or actively encourage—law-breaking in the form of underage drinking, then how did we get to the place when a high school principal hears enough rumors of parental acceptance of underage drinking that he sends a school-wide email pleading with parents to stop hosting such gatherings?
We focus too much on a child’s happiness. If making our child happy is one of our top goals as parents, then we tend to overlook misbehaviors because correcting a child causes “unhappiness.” When we’ve spent a child’s entire life removing obstacles to his or her “happiness,” then it’s a very small step to handing your now 16-year-old a beer.
We want to be a “cool” parent. While we might not admit it to ourselves, parents at times resemble high school students—we want to be thought of as the “in” mom or the “with it” dad. And allowing our high schooler to participate in activities that skirt or outright thumb a nose at the law does raise our coolness factor in the eyes of some teens. However, what it doesn’t do is provide the type of guidance and role model our teenagers need.
We want to be our teen’s friend. Parenting a teenager has its own set of challenges as the teen begins the necessary journey of pulling away from her parents, while mom and dad transition into the role of mentor. But we often make the mistake of wanting to be friends with our teens when they still need us to be the parent-adult in charge. Friendship with our kids comes a bit later in life; rushing in to that stage too soon can potentially damage the future (and present) relationship.
We parent in the present, not the future. Too many times we are thinking only of the here-and-now when raising our kids, when we should be parenting with our eyes firmly fixed on the future. If we keep in mind who we want our kids to be at age 30, it will inform our decisions today with clarity and conviction. I doubt the parents who have hosted teenage drinking parties thought, “I really hope my son will skirt the law in his job when he’s on his own!” or “Learning that rules aren’t made for her is the best thing for my daughter’s future.”
If we remember that parenting is not cool and that our child’s happiness isn’t the best barometer to follow, then we will be well on our way to being the mom and dad our children need—not the friend who hands them a beer.
Until next time,