Thursday, December 20, 2007

Parenting Worries About the Teen Years

As I write this my oldest child is ten.

As a new parent I dreamed that our home would be the place where all the neighborhood kids or my kids’ friends would want to hang out. I wanted to be the mom that everyone liked and wished was their mom. I wanted all the kids to like coming to my home and wanted them to feel comfortable here. I hoped too that we’d have some neighbors that we were close to, that we liked and so on, and that the kids would drift from one house to the other to hang out.

Due to a bad thing that happened to me when I was 14 I would not have the home that let’s the young teens drink alcohol, have big parties, smoke cigarettes, smoke pot or use illegal drugs like popping pills. I want to make that clear. I won’t be ‘that type of parent’.

Now that my oldest son is 10 and we are homeschooling this is all a little different than I first imagined that parenthood would be. Due to the nature of this lifestyle we parents have a bit more control over who our children socialize with and which kids we choose to spend more time with and which we intentionally stay away from. With that said some of my children’s closest friends attend public or private school! We are not living in a little isolated bubble and networking socially with only homeschoolers. In fact the homeschoolers are actually busier than the schooled kids sometimes, so getting together with them is not so easy.

A few years ago a center was built in my little town that originally was supposed to be a place for the teens to hang out and be safe to socialize in. In reality it is more like a community center for the entire community (all ages) but they do have a teen area and teen nights.

Things are not as perfect, I don’t think, as the original elderly couple who thought up this idea and benefacted something like a million dollars to help build. One way the center makes money is off of after-school care for children living in dual income families.

I heard some pretty bad stories two years ago about the middle school students. Apparently in the after-school program the kids were going to the woods to smoke cigarettes, to smoke pot and/or to drink alcohol. Others were said to be having various forms of sex in the woods. They would then come back into the center where the care was supervised. This was finally addressed and the rule was made that once someone leaves the door they cannot come back in. I don’t know how this is working out or how they can prevent middle school aged children from leaving the building and just going outside to hang out until the parents show up after they are out of work.

My friend said she didn’t even like going there for the arts and sports classes after school as the middle school kids were cursing so much right at the doors and it was offensive to her. She didn’t want her young children learning new swear words from those kids.

Needless to say I have been thinking, “What kind of socialization will my kids have in their teen years?”

A couple of weeks ago, two families (whose kids are in the public middle school here) were telling me the big thing to do in town is for kids to hang out in a finished basement or in a bonus room of a family’s house. They sit on big couches and watch movies together. However they are drinking vodka in their water bottles, unbeknownst to some parents. Oops. Not so good, eh?

One parent said she is thinking of renovating a room in her house as she wants the kids in HER house for those gathering and she plans to not allow any alcohol drinking. She did also say that now that her daughter is in sixth grade that she is worrying already about making sure her daughter is hanging around with ‘the right’ kids.

More than one article has appeared in our town newspaper in which the police urge parents to not sponsor parties where alcohol is served. As a matter of fact the parents can now get arrested for allowing underage drinking to go on in their house.

My friend said at a PTA sponsored talk about children and drugs and alcohol a psychologist said that a family in town went so far as to grow their own pot for their teen to use. “They said they wanted their children to have a clean source.” The psychologist was not supporting that type of behavior. It was an example of the way some parents look at what their teens are doing and how they feel that using drugs or alcohol is not a problem.

I have no clue if our house will be the house that the kids want to hang out in. What I do know is that for now I am very happy that both of my children are very interested in Cub Scouts and looking forward to being in Boy Scouts. I would be overjoyed if they both spent at least one weekend a month camping with the Boy Scouts instead of partying in other teens’ basements. Go ahead; say my kids will be nerds. You know what? Having nerd or geek kids is actually sounding better than having my kids getting drunk or high with their friends on weekends.

I don’t think that the fact that we homeschool will be enough of a reason that my kids will not encounter any of this typical teen stuff. I can’t imagine how they could avoid all of it unless I carve out some tiny niche of ‘good kids’ for them to hang around with. I have doubts that it would work out entirely that way because the major problem right now even, is that all the kids are so busy with all of their different activities, sports and such and it is hard to just get them together in the first place.

Sometimes I think that parenting is difficult, at the stage we’re in right now. However when I think of the upcoming teen years I actually get a bit nervous and I think things will be even harder then.

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Ruth in NC said...

I homeschool 2 teens and an 11yo and have done so for 9 years. Interestingly, they socialized with neighborhood and synagogue friends who were publicly and privately schooled when they were younger but now they socialize almost exclusively with other homeschooled teens. This is in part because they had a very active teen group as early and pre- teens that went to the movies at 2pm on Tuesday, etc. Also they just don't share the same interests as many of their schooled friends.

Problems with alcohol and drugs have been rarely, but not never, encountered in our group. My children do not go to the homes of certain families, do not spend the night in certain homes where I am not sure of adequate supervision.

When we have parties, I am in the background. NO ALCOHOL is allowed and they know I will be watching. Next time I may be a bit more sceptical of water bottles than I have been in the past.:) I think I would have noticed extensive sharing, however.

It is hard to parent teens but so worth it. I love my teens. They are very cool people. And they like me, too. You'll do fine.
Ruth in NC

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

I had similar visions to yours about ours being the house the kids came to and me being the sort of Jan Brady mom.

With my oldest it did not turn out that way because she ran track. I spent more time hanging out at track meets than she and her friends did at our house. She was not a party girl-type kid. She was schooled through high school, and she was considered a social butterfly at school. At home, she liked to be, well, at home. I did drive kids to track meets, and had a science fair project slumber party so that her group could record fluctations in the earth's magnetic field every hour over night, though.

With N. the vision is even further from where we are. First, he has AS and does not really enjoy socializing all that much. His social interactions occur mostly at Boy Scouts and religious school, Taekwando and such. Secondly, we live out in the mountains, and much of our "down" time is spent with each other. We enjoy that very much, but it is hardly the "teenage" activities I imagined from the maternal point of view.

We'll see how it goes, but since I got through the teen years with my older child sucessfully, albeit unconventionally, I am less worried about it.

Nine Texans and friends.... said...

>>>Having nerd or geek kids is actually sounding better than having my kids getting drunk or high with their friends on weekends. <<<

I am 100% certain if my children were in an institutional school setting they would be not be part of the 'in' crowd. GREAT! There are lots of cons to being in that world and pretty much no long term positives. As long as a child isn't socially inept, by the time they graduate from college you can't tell, or at least it doesn't matter one bit, who was "popular" and who wasn't.
My kids follow their interests and personal preferences based on what they like, not what their peers tell them to like. They haven't learned to be ashamed of who they are. They have friends, and don't only socialize with homeschoolers, but they have had so little exposure to 'group think' that they have remained pretty true to themselves and are now showing as they grow older an ability to handle what peer pressure they do face pretty easily and make good choices of who they look up to and who they seek out as friends. Contrary to popular belief, homeschooled kids don't 'freak out and go wild' when faced with 'the real world'.

And yes, Christine, parenting teens is hard but the rewards you reap are great. Bigger challenges equals a bigger sense of accomplishment when they are overcome.

Mom to two teens now and 6 more up and coming :D