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How Much Information Should Teens Keep Private?

My eldest daughter, a college freshman, is 18. She’s also 21. I learned this while planning a getaway to Newport, RI.

“Ah, Newport,” she said. “The only place in America where I’m 21 years old.”

“What do you mean?”

My fake ID, Mom. It’s a Rhode Island license, and my address is a mansion in Newport.”

I wanted to applaud her creativity, not to mention her upgrading, but a fake ID?

My imagination triggered a slide show of horrors: a man slipping a roofie into my baby’s drink, my daughter passing out with alcohol poisoning at a club, doctors in green scrubs pumping her stomach in a cold, sterile emergency room. I became more incensed with each horrendous image, and now, I needed to take action.

Should I demand she destroy the ID or just give advice and admonitions?

My Coming of Age Experience

I was at a loss. My daughter’s openness certainly didn’t mimic my teenage relationship with my parents. They knew nothing. The neighborhood was my playground, and I ran free all day. There were no parental chauffeurs. My friends and I walked or took the bus everywhere. No one monitored my choice of music or books. And, my parents and I never, ever discussed sex, drugs, rock and roll, or fake IDs.

I came of age in 1970s Puerto Rico, when there was no drinking age. Our parents saw teenage drinking as a rite of passage: “Look at Junior, he’s so drunk, ha ha ha.”

Our pump was already primed, so when drugs and the sexual revolution knocked on our door, we happily, albeit secretly, let them in. Our parents, raised in a more innocent time, had very little idea what was happening. We smoked, drank, lost our virginity and experimented with drugs. If something was bad for us, even dangerous, we did it. We were the worst of the irresponsible risk takers.

Even in my earlier childhood years, I faced very real dangers in secret. Flashers were prevalent in San Juan. My friends and I learned to ignore these sickos, and we never told our parents. When I was in third grade, a suspicious man followed me. Absolutely sure he meant me harm, I ran into a touristy guesthouse. I told the guesthouse owner the truth, but lied to my mom.

I was 14 when an older teenager blocked my path on the sidewalk and stuck his hand between my legs. Bummer for him, I was wearing a two-inch thick, foot-long maxi pad. Again, I remained silent. The subject matter embarrassed me, and I lacked the appropriate vocabulary to discuss it. Also, I knew that my parents would curtail my freedom if they knew. So, they remained oblivious. They weren’t vigilant because they saw no need for it.

No Wonder We’re Vigilant

No wonder my friends and I are helicopter parents. We know too much and relay our fears to our kids, beginning with the “Stranger Danger” conversation. We talk to them about their bodies and their private areas. We teach them what to do if  “a bad person” tries to grab or hurt them. We tell them it’s very important to let Mom and Dad know about anything that makes them uncomfortable. And, we ask questions, like: “Do any kids in your grade smoke?”

When my kids were little, I needed to be able to see them when they played outside. If they moved to a neighbor’s yard, they had to come and tell me. Later, they carried cell phones, and I required them to check in, constantly. If I could put a GPS on them, I would have. I trust my children; I don’t trust the world around them.

Yet now, I know my daughter is going to bars before she’s legally old enough.

Will this fake ID thrust her into great peril? Over the years, we’ve had many discussions about responsible drinking, but the stakes seem higher now. If she gets caught with a fake ID, she could face a hefty fine and lose her real license for a year. She would also have a record, a permanent record. I told her these things, and she responded with her usual and dismissive, “Mom, it’s FINE.”

I could demand she destroy the ID. But there’s nothing to stop her from getting another, this time in secret. Do I trust her to use it wisely? I don’t like it, but yes, I trust her to make the right choices. I know too much about my kids, about the world around them, and sometimes, I just wish I didn’t.

Margarita Barresi is a writer whose work has appeared in Acentos Review, Pink Ink, and Boston Accent Lit. She is currently working on a historical fiction novel set in Puerto Rico during the first half of the 20th century.

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