Unsupervised Teenagers (But Not Really)
My sons, ages 18 and 16, have a bounty on their heads this week. I’m posting “WANTED” signs with their pictures on them at the gates of our neighborhood. You know—like those signs for a lost cat.
Have You Seen These Boys? Report Any Suspicious Behavior by calling (555) 555-5555.
Before you start feeling sympathetic or—heaven forbid—embarrassed for them, know that they brought this situation on themselves. Oh sure, they’re good boys, as far as teenage boys go. They’re mostly “A” students, who’ve never had a brush with the law (save a speeding ticket or two). But, they have recently staged a mutiny. They are rejecting the complimentary babysitting services provided by their grandmother. When my husband and I travel out of town, she steps in. But my boys insist that they are mature enough to look after themselves. The little ingrates.
Our Boys Wanted to Stay Home Alone While We Traveled
“We don’t need a babysitter! We’re not babies!” protested my youngest (aka: The Baby).
I guess he has a point. After all, when was the last time anyone saw a baby wearing headphones, dropping F-bombs, killing aliens online, and holding a Pepperoni Hot Pocket in one hand while texting in a group chat with the other? An actual baby couldn’t do that—this requires a sophisticated skill set a baby wouldn’t have.
Opting for a gentler path of persuasion, my older son recounted a story from the last time my mother watched them. She made him change out of his gym clothes into a “nicely pressed pair of slacks” and an oxford dress shirt before he walked across the street to his friend’s house. She said that no grandson of hers was going to “run around the neighborhood looking like a vagabond!”
So after exhaustive deliberation on our part, we’ve agreed to let them stay here, on their own, unsupervised.
Sort of …
We Warned Our Boys That Everyone Would Be Watching Them
As a veteran parent of 29 years, I believe the key to leaving your teens home alone for a few days is traumatizing them into “Self-Policing.” A parent must accomplish this years in advance by convincing their children at an early age that they are never, ever truly unsupervised. They must come to believe that you have “moles” planted strategically all over town, that they’re basically being raised in a fish bowl. You must raise them to believe that if, for some odd reason, you didn’t witness a transgression, someone who did will phone it right in.
One clever way I accomplished this:
When my children would report something random that happened at school, I often pretended I already knew about it. It didn’t matter if their story was about a classmate who got sent to the principal’s office or a kid who vomited during Circle Time, I acted as if I already knew. As they got older, I pretended to know who French-kissed whom at middle school parties. As I negotiated my minivan out of a parking space, I would nod and say, “Oh yeah, I heard about that!” (Needless to say, I had not heard about it, as I had been buried under an avalanche of laundry for at least 15 years.)
We Know Everything Our Kids Do From the Underground Parent Network
I proudly credited a phantom organization I called the “Underground Parent Network” as my chief source of information. My kids perceived the UPN as a legitimate and viable threat to all of their juvenile delinquent urges and grew up with a healthy respect and fear of it.
I’m relying on my initial investment in my children’s collective social paranoia to keep their behavior in check. Nonetheless, I’m not leaving anything to chance. I am working on a list of all the things I need to do before I leave, to ensure unimpeachable behavior in my absence.
- Offer a cash reward to anyone who calls in reporting suspicious activity—similar to Crime-Stoppers.
- Email my friends a list of their “drive-by” shift assignments.
- Install “ManyCams” (google it) strategically around the house that stream directly to our iPads and laptops.
But just in case—if you happen to see anything that looks the slightest bit “askew” over at our place—don’t hesitate to call. I’ll see to it there’s a little reward in it for your trouble. You are a member of the UPN, aren’t you?