Some things I don’t think we’re necessarily meant to know, particularly if one is, as I admittedly am, hostile to ever having kids. But morbid curiosity caused me to open this letter to Cary Tennis from a parent (assumed by all the sexists in the comments at Salon to be the mother) whose 16-year-old is “out of control”, and who they wish they could just kick out. Eager to find out what “out of control” meant, I was disturbed to discover that the girl’s main crimes were having friends over when her parents weren’t home (which apparently did result in some jewelry theft, which is fucked up, but there is probably more to the story), screaming at her parents, having her boyfriend in her room, breaking the 10PM curfew, and not allowing her parents to know where she is every minute of the day. Cary responded a lot more gently than I would have, pointing out that perhaps her parents are getting so obsessed with their daughter’s rebellion that they forget that she’s a human being. Hint hint: WTF a 10 PM curfew on a 16-year-old?
What surprised me was reading the letters, which ran at least 7 to 1 against Cary and for the idea that there’s something horribly wrong with a teenager who wants some privacy, some time with her friends away from adult supervision, and a chance to get busy with the boyfriend. It was dozens of letters before anyone suggested that at 16, birth control rather than non-stop parental supervision would be an adequate response. Most of the letter writers suggested that it’s entirely reasonable to put an high schooler under 24/7 supervision, and not only that, but parents who don’t are total slackers.
Interestingly, they didn’t pick up on the fact that he was judging the fathers who removed their teenage girls’ bedroom doors. Which struck me as the sort of thing you do if you want a kid to hate you for life.
I’m sure the first 15 responses to this will be, “You don’t have kids, so you don’t know,” and okay, I realize that’s the trump card in our society, but still, I must admit that I was surprised as hell. When I was 16, most of my non-school hours were spent out of adult supervision. And, according to most kids I knew, my parents were unreasonably strict. (I blame my stepfather, whose authoritarian tendencies caused him to put a midnight weekend curfew on a high school senior, which was reacted to by myself as a grave injustice instead of a minor injustice, because yo, teenager.) Traveling in packs from house to house to hang out was what you did, and if an adult was around, it was shocking. We weren’t required to update our parents on where we were, and when my younger cousin’s mom got him a cell phone when he was in high school, we gave her all sorts of shit about being overprotective. Unstructured time to goof off, listen to records, and yes, sexually experiment was considered a god-given right of teenagers. Maybe it’s a west Texas rural thing, but I don’t think so, because I used to go to El Paso to visit my dad all the time, and I had friends there, and same story—kids roamed around unsupervised, had parties, and even having a curfew made you a pitiable figure. My folks would leave us alone for long weekends, even, and figured we had enough brain cells to get our own asses out of bed, eat, and get to school.
This shouldn’t surprise me, I suppose. I know by the time I was in my early to mid 20s, I could tell attitudes were changing. Parents of elementary and junior high school kids I knew didn’t give them near the freedom we had as kids. I and every kid I knew growing up was basically turned out of the house to roam around, and the hard part was making us go outside instead of stay in and fry our brains on TV. But just tossing your kids out to play was, according to many parents I met, way too dangerous. This embittered me, because for a time, I lived around the corner from a junior high school and every afternoon there was an insane traffic jam as parents showed up to pick up their kids. I don’t think I knew any kids whose parents picked them up after school in junior high. I distinctly remember one time when we got my friend’s dad to pick us up on the last day of junior high after begging and pleading, because we didn’t want to be rounded up by high school kids for “initiation”. But at this school, apparently it was too fucking dangerous even to spread out the traffic by having kids walk to the corner to be picked up. No, every single goddamn parent in a two mile radius had to pick up their kid right at the front door.
Of course, they did call my generation “latch key kids” in order to raise some sort of moral panic about mothers who worked in the 80s. But even the people in a snit about that didn’t, as far as I can tell, think that there was anything remotely sensible about putting teenage kids under 24/7 supervision.
I’m sure most parents out there are reasonable about certain realities, but I’m just sort of stunned that most of the people in comments at Salon don’t bat an eye at the idea that one should subject a 16-year-old to a privacy and freedom free life, and that having a boyfriend that one wants to fool around with is a particularly egregious crime. The blase attitude people have about this severe authoritarianism really goes a long way to explaining how things like chastity rings spread in popularity, without parental alarm bells going off.