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Responsible Parenting? We Didn’t Check on Teens in the Basement

Dear Your Teen:

Ten kids are in my basement. My husband and I know all of the kids, and we would call them all good kids. We periodically walk by the door to the basement. We look at each other, and I suggest that one of us should go downstairs to check on them. We make a little noise to let them know that we are right there. And then, we ignore our gut and conventional wisdom and we do not go downstairs and check on the teens in the basement.

Had you asked me before I had an 11th grader, I would have said we do the tough things. Before I was confronted with this situation, I would have given a clear and unwavering answer. Of course, we will go downstairs. On our watch, we have a responsibility to those kids and to the parents of the other children to make sure that everyone is safe. We can’t have unsupervised children on our watch.

But, reality doesn’t always coincide with perfection. We felt distrusting, we felt ambivalent, but mostly we just felt embarrassed to go down and check. Did we ignore our commitment to responsible parenting? What should we have done?

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EXPERT | Barbara Greenberg, Ph.D.

You are in good and plentiful company here. Parents frequently ask me whether they have permission to invade their teens’ privacy by checking up on them. It would seem that parents would have an easier time exercising their authority and responsibility and checking up on their kids. Parents worry, however, about not only walking into an embarrassing situation but also about shaming their kids or making them angry.

Of course there is not a single parent who wants to see their teen in any sort of sexual/physical entanglement. Nor do they want to see their kids drinking or using other drugs. Nonetheless, you have answered your own question. As you said so beautifully you have a responsibility to not only the kids in your basement but to their parents.

It is your responsibility to make sure that the kids are engaging in safe and healthy behavior. Yes, you or they may get embarrassed. And, yes your teens may get angry at you.

But their safety is your #1 responsibility.

So, in response to your question I suggest that you do go down to the basement, make a bit of noise to avoid the surprise, and ask the kids if they need snacks. This is always a good excuse to check on the teens in the basement. And, if embarrassment and anger ensue, everyone will eventually get over these feelings.

Good luck with this not so easy task.

Dr. Barbara Greenberg is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of teens, children, and families. She is the co-author of Teenage as a Second Language. She writes and consults for several publications and frequently appears on TV. You can find her work on her website

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