My son and the Houseguest are both in their very late teens. They drive. They are larger than I am. They are in college. I have been through their childhood and out the other side. That’s one of the reasons I’m writing this, with a rear-view mirror on parenting. One issue that drove me up a wall was the over-protective helicopter parent who essentially wanted to bubble wrap their kids “to keep them safe.” They interfere in every interpersonal conflict and difficulty the kid has. They restrict them unbelievably.
My son and the Houseguest were and are two very different people. They get along great and care very much about each other, but their personalities are near opposites.
Life can be dangerous, but life is infinitely more dangerous for those who are unprepared. Both my son and the Houseguest did jiu-jitsu for years. Excellent sport, great for self discipline as well as self-defense. Both of them were assaulted at various points during their childhood, and both of them effectively defended themselves. We’ve already established that I spied on them at a level that would put the NSA to shame, but in all things there is a balance.
I don’t want anything really serious to happen to them, but I don’t want to give them the feeling I’m spying on them every second of the day. Here are some guidelines I found helpful:
- I always saw them after school, which was a huge pain, but well worth it. I mean see them in person, face to face. A parent can tell when a kid is having a good day or not. I’d ask them how school was or some other open ended question. Nine times out of ten, if something was up, they would tell me. They still do.
- The main thing I had to do was keep them willing to talk with me and be really real about what was going on. This is a tough thing to do. I didn’t do a very good job at times restraining myself from giving unsolicited advice. This almost never worked out well when I got intense and “parenty” about it. What tended to work better was for me to say very casually, “Well, I see what you are doing there. If you do that, and you certainly can, I don’t think it will work out very well for you and this is why, but let me know if you need any help.”
- Quoting sources other than myself worked very well. Back when sexting started to be a thing, kids were getting arrested left and right. They are now teenage registered sex offenders for life because they sent their bestest girl a picture of their teenage winkie dink. Over a period of a few weeks, I showed the boys news story after news story about this, and how these kids were screwed for life. This sort of thing made them begin to think about the consequences of their actions in the adult world.
- While I had copious amounts of data on their goings-on I RARELY mentioned the findings of my excavations. VERY RARELY. One of the most important lessons I learned as a parent was to let the minor shit slide. Just let it be. In your own head you can say to yourself, “Did you REALLY just text that to someone? Really? What is WRONG with you?” There were more than a few occasions where I almost intervened but then had enough faith in my kids to let them turn the situation around themselves. In the vast majority of these instances, they not only made me proud, they grew up in the process.
- Keep in mind that your job as a parent is to make an adult. An adult is not someone who can’t function on their own. It is not someone who is incapable of resolving interpersonal conflicts without mom, dad or the police. An adult learns from their mistakes. An adult takes bad situations and deals with them. If you as a parent are CONSTANTLY micromanaging your child, how will they ever learn?
- Having said all of the above, there were issues that came up. Big issues. One thing I never did was ask a question I didn’t already know the answer to. One of the first rules for the boys was that they were never to lie to me. In the very vast majority of instances, they did not, and this improved greatly over time. I remember an instance where I found out that the Houseguest went to a party without my permission. After some information gathering I sat him down and asked him if he went to the party. He admitted he did. I asked him if there was parental supervision at this party. He stated there was not. I asked him a number of other questions about the party which I already knew the answers to (by this time I was really good at the whole detective thing — really, really good). He scored a perfect 100% on all the questions. I told him not to ever do that again, because it was a matter of time before I found out. Later that same month, he wanted to go to another party with “his dog (very bestest buddy ever — a complete jackass and drug user). I said no. I told him that kid was a lightening rod for trouble. The night that I “cockblocked” and “ruined the life” of my dear Houseguest, his friend, the jackass, was arrested with enough charges to send him to prison until he was 30. But for the employment of a VERY good attorney, that is where he would be to this day. The Houseguest now sees him for what he is and realizes he would have been in jail with this idiot; the jackass is still being a jackass all these years later. Valuable lesson learned, no harm, no foul.
- Because I only got into their business about 30% of the time that I thought I should, and because it was usually for a major issue, over a PERIOD OF YEARS, the kids started to realize that on the few occasions I did say something, it was usually for a good reason. My son started calling me the Illuminati after awhile and they would both, quite grudgingly, listen to me. They formed their own judgement and solve problems in their own way. There are many things on which we disagree, and that’s fine. They have grown into their own men, which is exactly what I wanted. But remember, it took YEARS, many, many years.
- As much of a struggle as it can be, the BULK of your dialogue with your child should not be correcting them. It must not be giving them a never-ending stream of instruction. It should be conversation. They should be doing most of the talking. You should be shutting your damn mouth, listening, and finding something you can say about them that lets them know you believe in them, that you think they are great. At the end of a long work day at your job, when you are nearly dead, this is a huge struggle, but remember, that job you did all day is your SECOND job. Your real job, for a little while begins at the end of your work day. It is the most important job you will ever do, so treat it that way and do it to the very best of your ability.