Just last night, my teenaged son went out with a girl, and their plan was to walk to the Coffee Bean a few miles away, hang out there for a while, and then walk back. His friend was going to picked up at 11:30pm by her mom, from our house. They did not want to be driven anywhere, as the two were enjoying their time together and walking and talking, and didn’t want to be annoyed by parents. They don’t drive yet, and we live in a pretty safe area. As long as I knew where he was and he communicated with me, I was okay with the plan.
He started off the night communicating quite well. He told me when they arrived at Coffee Bean and when they were headed home. At 10:05pm, he texted me that he was almost home. He knew I was in my bed, but not asleep, and he knows the house rules about having girls over: stay out in common areas, no bedrooms and no shut doors. I was happy to know he was having fun, and that he was almost home. But then, all of a sudden, it was 10:30 and he still wasn’t home. I texted him, but got no answer. I told myself he is fine, I shouldn’t panic, he is just having fun with his friend and doesn’t want to be home. All of sudden, it was 11:00 and he still wasn’t home. I tracked his location on his phone, and it showed him in a bizarre area not very close to home. Now I panicked. I tried calling, but he didn’t answer. So I sent a “ping” to his phone and kept calling, with no results. Worse, I now lost the signal. My mind started going to bad scenarios of where he might be and what might be happening.
Soon enough, he emerged, calling and texting me back, not understanding at all why I was so upset. He explained that he had been sitting outside with the girl for the past hour or more, a couple hundred feet from our home. He could not have been where the signal showed him to be, because he came home instantly once I reached him. I was angry…very angry. I was angry because saying that you’re almost home, and then not showing up for an hour or more, and not responding to communication is not okay. I will admit, I lost it. I lectured and yelled and argued with my son for at least 15 minutes. He argued that “almost home” doesn’t mean “coming inside the house”, and that saying his friend is leaving at 11:30 somehow implied that he’d be home at 11:30. I didn’t buy any of this, and we were just butting heads. I tried to go to sleep, but couldn’t.
I lay in bed, pondering how this happened and how I could have handled it differently. What was I actually mad about, and how could I effectively communicate that to my son? Partly, I was mad because he didn’t take responsibility for his failure to communicate and for his semantics games. But what this was really about, was my fear. Yes, fear. Fear is what parents do best. We are scared of everything and anything. We worry when we’re awake and when we’re asleep. Worry runs through our veins. I knew I had to go talk to my son, and explain this to him.
I went to his room, and he was still awake. I told him I didn’t want to fight, but I wanted to try this a different way, and that he just needed to hear me out. I got an eye roll, but then he listened. Here is what I told him:
“Every parent’s worst fear is that something horrible will happen to their child. This starts when you’re a baby, and never stops. We worry all the time about everything, from your physical well-being to your academic success to your social life and your emotional health. We worry during the day, and we worry at night. We lose sleep over it, and we have nightmares about it. We love you so much that we can’t bear the idea of something bad happening to you, and we will go to great lengths to prevent it, and will fiercely protect you as best we can.
So, when you say you’re almost home, and then don’t appear, we worry. No, it’s not likely that anything bad actually happened to you, but it does sometimes happen. I start to think of the boy from a nearby city that recently went missing on his way home from school. He had told his family he was on his way home, but he never arrived. When they called him, there was no answer. His body was found later that week washed up in a flood control. He had been washed away during heavy rains. I start to think of runaways and kidnappings, especially when the phone tracker showed you to be in a strange location. When an hour had gone by, and then you didn’t answer your phone, I was convinced one of these bad things had happened to you.
So, you see, it’s not that I’m just nagging you for the fun of it. It’s really not fun at all. I’d rather not worry at all. But as you gain more privileges and independence, my level of worry is going to go through the roof. I am terrified of the prospect of you driving. I’m already creating scenarios in my mind, and you don’t even have your license yet. But I love you, and I’m scared. So I need “almost home” to mean “almost home”, and if it doesn’t, I need to know what it does mean. I need to know where your are because I need to know that you are safe. That is my job. I don’t want to be pestering you and intruding on your plans. Really, I don’t . But I cannot let anything bad happen to you. Do you understand?”
He did. We cried together for a while. Opening up and being honest and telling him how scared I was, and explaining that this is why I nag, really was far more effective than yelling and arguing. I hope I can express myself this way to my children far more often. I think so many of you teens think we are just being mean and intrusive and over-bearing because we are just evil parents. I hope I’ve convinced you otherwise.
All that we parents want for our children, is for you to be happy, healthy and safe. We want you to become responsible and independent, successful and self-sufficient. We know that teenaged mind is wired for instant gratification, pleasure seeking at all costs, and that the end justifies the means. We know that certain parts of your brain, like the logic center, are over powered by others, like the pleasure center, so we will be the logical part of your brain for now. BECAUSE WE LOVE YOU, THAT’S WHY.