Why only you can save your teenager
Anyone familiar with Facebook will know there’s a little green dot that appears next to your friends’ names when they are online.
So it was when I noticed my daughter was using the app at 10.30 one evening — an hour after her bedtime and 90 minutes after devices have to be surrendered to the kitchen bench.
I loathe the policing part of parenting — give me two night feeds and a nappy change any day over teenage law enforcement — aka hostage negotiations with THE GENERATION THAT IS ALWAYS RIGHT.
Nevertheless I marched down to her room, where she was either deeply asleep or pretending to be deeply asleep.
“Why are you on Facebook — do you have another device in your bedroom?” I asked in the sort of calm, authoritative voice parenting manuals recommend. “No Mum,” she said drowsily. “I forgot to close the app when I put my phone on the bench.”
It sounded suss. But she’s a good kid. The previous week she’d returned $50 to a woman after seeing it drop out of her pocket. A shopper watching was so impressed he rewarded her with a packet of Rolos for being so honest.
The next day something about her explanation niggled so I constabled up and investigated.
Turns out my 14-year-old perp is something of an amateur; an old iPhone 3 was not-so-sneakily hidden down the far side of her bed.
Lying is a teenage rite of passage. It’s up there with pimples, messy bedrooms, selfabsorption and a reluctance to visit relatives. But it’s also a dirty great pothole in the path to trust and one that’ll make life both impassable and impossible if left to worsen.
“Sweetheart, are you sure you didn’t have another device in your room?” I asked the next day. She denied it, venturing an explanation both convoluted and implausible. She forgets I spent eight years as an investigative journalist.
Casually I questioned her into a cul de sac. She went silent. And in those few minutes, side by side in the car, I knew this was parenting at its most important.
Childcare is now a boom industry, a vote winner, a touchpaper topic on television and radio, and a key measure in the progressiveness of a nation.
Breastfeeding and vaccination, quite rightly, garner clicks, comments and campaigns. But when it comes to adolescents the political and personal responsibility appears to dry up. It’s as if having got them through primary school we run out of puff; that all those years of juggling home and career are now over because, really, can’t they simply look after themselves? They certainly look like they can.
But we’ve got it wrong. The hard work, the value-setting, the character-building, the listening, the emotional closeness, the role-modelling, the trust — it all happens from 12 onwards.
You might have pulled their toddler fingers out of the power sockets and baked birthday cakes and driven them to extracurricular activities, but if you give up on parenting at that tricky teenage axis where technology meets attitude then you’ve let them down at the moment they need you most
Psychologists note that we’ve gone from loose/tight parenting — freedom to roam in the early years then close supervision and curfews in adolescence — to tight/loose parenting where we fail to set boundaries because it’s all too hard.
Yet those lanky, illogical children that seem to have retreated out of our lives and into their bedrooms need us desperately. They require boundaries and discipline.
Where once we helicoptered, now we need to be their parachutes.
They’re looking outwards, away from us, about to jump into peers and parties and relationships, yet they still need those transparent safety strings to steer and soften the fall.
Instead the dialogue is about productivity, childcare, rebates. We’ve become a nation focused on enabling parents to work, not enabling them to parent. We patchwork through their younger years with childcare, grandparents and after-school care but, come adolescence, we desert them when they’re most susceptible. And we wonder why their generation is riven with suicide, anxiety, depression and self-harm.
I’m not a perfect parent but I want to feel part of a tribe — that there’s others setting curfews on their devices and calling to see if there’s supervision at parties. I want to be able to tell you that I’m worried about your child just as I’d hope you’d tell me if you were worried about mine. I want my daughter to stop telling me that “no one else’s parents care”.
“So what’s my punishment?” she asked, after I’d rumbled her for lying. There isn’t one, I told her. Because in the end she told the truth and in the quiet chat after we both learned so much.
Days later I asked if she’d mind if I wrote about her deceit. “Yeah, sure,” she said, “but only if you drive me to the bus instead of making me walk.” Ah, ever the teenager.
illogical children that have retreated
into their bedrooms need us desperately