vintage prom

The decision and indecision of parenting teens

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by Robin Dance

Married over half her life to her college sweetheart, Robin's guilty pleasure is Reddi Wip from the can. Mom to three, she's as Southern as sugar-shocked tea. Follow her on Twitter. Her beautiful new blog robindance.me is a must-see.

More than an ocean had separated me from my children when I returned home from two months abroad; I wondered what re-entry would look like.

Would we pick right up seamless and smooth, a comma punctuating our good-bye instead of a period? Or would it be a gravel road, pitted and pocked and jolting? I’m close to my three, but after all, it had been a while since I was the boss of them.

I didn’t have to wonder long; prom was two weeks after I returned. In case your children are still young enough for you not to know this, Prom Season inevitably will push boundaries.

My boundary push came by way of an after-party invitation for my 17-year-old son: a co-ed all-nighter with the guys sleeping in tents outside, and the girls sleeping in an upstairs playroom.

Right, I thought. Visions of American Pie, Animal House, American Graffiti – and any other party movie I’ve ever heard of or seen – all rolled into one night.

All this, projected onto a group of kids who have never even come close to my Imagination Gone Wild.

I was furious…

• to be cast in the position of Bad Guy.
• that someone else’s choice was creating a wedge between me and my son.
• that these parents were forcing all the other parents to make a choice none of us wanted to make.

Our children have always been allowed to challenge our decisions, as long as they did so respectfully. If their appeal was compelling enough, we’d consider changing our minds. If a sorry attitude accompanied it, they were out of luck; and never did we care what “everyone else” was allowed to do.

This was different, though; it felt like disaster waiting to happen.

Imagination Gone Wild paints a raunchy, bleak picture. It only thinks the worst…even when there’s no evidence to do so.

Teen drivers have freedom, and we stress great responsibility comes with that privilege. I’m sure they roll their eyes when I declare that “a car is a loaded weapon in the hands of a teenager,” but we’ve seen tragedy; they know the truth of my hyperbole.

Because we can’t tag along everywhere they go, we often remind them that “If you put yourself in a situation where something can happen, something eventually, inevitably, will happen.”

• Speeding ~ a ticket – or worse, an accident
• Parties where alcohol or drugs are present ~ temptation to experiment
• Alone/isolated with a boyfriend or girlfriend ~ physical boundaries crossed

Hear me loud, hear me clear: Good kids do.

I saw the after-party as a potential “something happening” situation. Because my son respectfully persisted, however, I left the window cracked open for further consideration. My discussions took place with:

  • Other parents who knew the party host: EVERY one of them vouched for their reputation.  Even the mom I KNEW would say no granted permission!  (grumble grumble)
  • My 19-year-old daughter: the girl who has lived out her faith consistently as a teen. Two years out of high school, she knew the kids who were invited. “Mom, let him go. These are the kids you want him to hang out with.” (Et tu, Brute?)
  • My husband, still working abroad: “I’d let him go, but it’s up to you since you’re the one there.” (What?! Are you kidding me??)
  • God: I prayed for heaps of wisdom.

Only my sister and one lone friend advised against it. The tide was in favor of permission. I was clearly outnumbered.

Yet I continued to wrestle.

On Prom Night, I still hadn’t given my son a definitive answer. He remained hopeful. I was still mad, likely at myself for not giving a definitive answer and sticking with it.

It was only after we met up with a group of his friends and their parents to take pictures, that I finally did what I should have from the beginning: Together with another mom, we called the host parents and asked if we could stop by.

I guess because I was angry, judgmental, and unwilling to extend the benefit of the doubt, I couldn’t make myself do this beforehand.

A warm welcome greeted us, making it easy to admit my concerns. The host parents offered a tour of their home, showing us where the kids would be, and shared their plans for the night. Another couple or two planned to chaperone as well.

What they shared next blew me away:

not a single parent called for more information or to express concern. They were surprised and – I could tell – disappointed that more parents had not raised questions.

They explained their reasons for hosting an after-party:

By law, teens are not allowed to drive after midnight. They wanted to provide a safe, fun venue for a post-prom event. Rather than asking parents to plan for a VERY late night pick-up, they were willing to open their home to the students, provide soft drinks, snacks and activities – nothing structured, but plenty to do.

These were involved, aware parents who planned this party with great intention.

I messaged my son and told him he could go. For the hundredth time, he gave his assurance he wouldn’t disappoint me, that I could trust this group.  My son returned the next day gushing thanks for me letting him go and telling me how cool his friends’ parents were; that they stayed up all night with them (no one ended up sleeping) and how they cooked a huge breakfast around 5 am.

How my NO became a YES

I finally put my finger on my indecisiveness when it occurred to me that if WE were hosting a post-prom party, WE could be trusted to supervise the kids in a way parents wouldn’t have to worry. What arrogance to think no one else could do the same.

Parenting teens is complicated. If you treat every decision as black and white, you’re going to drive a wedge in your relationship with your children.

Yes, there will be times you’re going to be the Bad Guy, but there might be a time when you change your mind on a decision you thought originally carved in stone.

I’m learning that every once in a while, that’s perfectly fine.

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Comments

  1. Wow, this is intense. I could feel myself getting worked up as I read, thinking, “She’s not going to let him go, is she?!” And then I was so happy when things turned out well in the end. I really appreciate your candor. I just have small kids at home right now, but I’m not looking forward to the day when these “big life” decisions are at my doorstep. Thanks for sharing the process and reminding me that there’s more to a story than what’s on the cover.

    • Hey Jeni,

      Ha! It feels a little foreign now that I had so much angst over this, but I did; I’m happy that translated.

      You remind me of one of my parenting mantras: “Seek to understand before you seek to be understood.” Following that from the beginning would have had me calling those parents from the start!

  2. I thought it was an excellent post and thank you for sharing. As a mother to 9 and 7 1/2 year old girls I find myself looking desperately for posts like this. I want to stay the way I am now – open minded, encouraging my kids to always argue their case, saying yes more than no… but admit I am terrified of when they are teens and the stakes are much higher. It helps to see how stories play out for others so we can all learn together to be brave and trust our children because we know how we raised them…

    • Deb,

      I recall being terrifed of the Teen Years when my children were younger; I parented deliberately, with intention, and I wondered what that would look like as they hit that season. But, honestly, I’ve enjoyed it greatly with all three! Yes, you’re faced with decisions that have VERY different consequences than when they’re younger, but I hope I can encourage parents how wonderful this time can be. Hard, adult conversations to be had, but such an enriching time when they can engage you. I think being a reasonable, open parent helps (not a doormat/pushover, etc., but REASONABLE.) :)

      • Robin – I hope you are as blessed as you have blessed me. Parents with older or grown kids make the teenagre years sound so awful. It just about sucks any joy out of looking toward those years. My mom, on the other hand, says they were hard but very rewarding. I was blessed with really, great Christian friends (sounds like your kids have been, too) and we honestly (people rarely believe this) never drank, smoke, snuck out, etc. We had so much fun being together and didn’t have a desire to do those other things. I’m in my mid-30s with little ones and can’t thank you enough for being candid that it’s hard but also recognizing that it can be really great, too. I hope my kiddos are blessed with those same kinds of friends!

  3. I love this post and I think you have described the complexities in a truly wonderful way. Definitely will be keeping this in mind for when my now 10 yr old is stretching my parenting comfort zone in these ways (yikes)!

    • Catherine,

      Thank you :). I’m convinced that’s why God designed parenting with us easing into different seasons. Can you imagine if babies were born teens?? (But I promise, it can be a wonderful time IN SPITE of tht hormonal bump…!)

  4. Thank you for writing this. Parenting a teen brings so many complicated decisions that need to be made. I love how you handled this. I think that communication with other parents is so very important.

    • Dawn,

      You touched on an important point: it’s important to have relationship with the parents of your children’s friends. In this case, I knew my son’s closest friends’ parents, but not the party parents. You could tell that they were known, but a large highschool that my son transferred to late meant I don’t know as many people had he gone to school with these kids from kindergarten on.

      I often talk to other parents. We follow up on “plans” they’re having if there’s any question and I’ve had other parents call ME when our house was the destination…only to have to tell them I hadn’t seen their child :/. That’s tough. But we were both thankful we had the freedom–the invitation–to call one another WITHOUT JUDGING EACH OTHER.

  5. Wow. Nothing like stepping right into the hornet’s nest as soon as you re-enter. I am surprised, actually BEYOND surprised, that no other parent called ahead of time to check in with the hosting parents. You did good, Robin. Yeah, you did.

    • Diana,

      All I can figure is their son has a REALLY good reputation and the parents are well thought of. I just didn’t happen to know them. Otherwise…wowza. ESPECIALLY where the girls are concerned, ya know?

      • avatar
        Heather H says:

        I am actually amazed at how rarely parents ask questions or even feel like they can say No to their children. I am so often the ‘mean’ parent of my two teens.

        Heather

  6. Robin – Thank you so much for sharing this story! I can so see me being in your shoes. Thanks for the reminder to check out where anger might be imbedded in my not wanting to deal with what another adult has forced on me. I found you tonight, through 31 Days, from the little I’ve read, I’ll be back. :-)

    I have a 15 yr old boy & 12 yr old girl, and I’m a single parent who home schools. I’m currently anguishing over a decision with my son – both my dad & brother believe he should be busy, busy, busy. As in working a job, doing school, and practicing music (soon adding a 2nd instrument). I find myself really disagreeing. He enjoys meticulous detail & slow processing (tying flies, building legos, creating airplanes/arrows that fly right) I feel as if I only ‘get to keep him’ for 3 more years and I want him to be a kid as long as he can. He is a good kid & doesn’t push boundaries [much-when he does it’s respectful & we talk it through]. He doesn’t like to be so busy he doesn’t have down time/time to create. I wonder if this is a mom perspective and due largely to not wanting to promote our over-busy culture, or is there validity to a boy needs to be busy? Always.

    So far, no amount of pleading with God for help on this one has provided an answer :-). I know He will answer, in His time, the perfect time; it’s just a current heart burden. At what point as a single mom am I hindering his growth into a man of God? UGH! What a scary thought!!!

    • April, Trust your relationship with your son & your knowledge of him. You know him better than anyone. There is a mindset that the busier you keep kids the less likely they are to get into trouble. But I disagree. Your son needs time to be himself “meticulous detail & slow processing”. You can be grateful for your father’s & brother’s input, but as the parent, you decide what is best. Keep talking to your son. God bless.

    • avatar
      Nicki Crawford says:

      april,
      Your son IS busy, busy, busy! Just not the way other people think he should be. You know your son. My soon to be 12 year old son is also busy, busy with detail designs of legos, etc. and very involved with computer games and programs. Very much like his highly successful, engineer father was at that age. He is also a champion swimmer so it’s not like he’s in front of a computer screen 24/7. A good mix of activity and downtime is essential for him. My daughters want to be always on the go. My son needs his space and time. But his brain is definitely busy!

  7. Great post! Even though I am not ‘there’ yet my oldest is only 11 I really appreciated reading this post. Will keep in the back of my mind that perhaps we need to look at each situation as they arise as indivdual ones and make informed decisions. Good on you for taking the time to think and ask for input. Will pass this post on to a friend with teenagers!

  8. Whoooa. I too, am THAT parent. The bad guy, the one that starts at NO, you can’t do that. My son (almost 15) is famous for ‘you’re just overprotective’ — and my retort is always, ‘Well, if you can live to be old and gray because of it, so be it” — but, clearly two things resonated with me here. What you said about the other parents putting you in the position in the first place, hit home. My son’s best friend has an older brother who is 20. They are all good kids, but it is forcing me to deal with the teens in cars issue a lot earlier than I planned. On the flip side, I just KNOW if the situation were reversed the other mother wouldn’t allow her son to do the things I have been asked to allow. Second, I am THAT parent. The one who calls, who meets the parents surveys the landscape. I HAVE to. I am continually amazed by parents whose kids come to my house having never met me, or for that matter even really know where I live. My kids see it as the parents trusting the kids — but seriously, at 13?? (Yes, two teens in this house!) . Anyway, my hat is off to you for standing your ground!

  9. I simply can not thank you enough for your post–teared up towards the end even! Our son is a junior this year, with a girlfriend who is a senior. I could see something like this happening for either prom & am not sure how I will handle it! However, as you did, listening & then talking in person to the parents is the way to go. Our daughter is in 7th grade, so she is off my “radar” for prom season for the moment–lol! Great job & thank you, thank you~

  10. I’m walking that same path as you Robin. From a small local catholic school with friends & parents I approve – to a large high school with new friends that live far away and parents/ values I don’t know.

    And with new requests coming faster (and via texting) than I can handle. My usual reply is “You know I’m going to need a LOT more details than that…” I found that saying a reluctant yes and dropping him off myself so I can meet with the parents has been really helpful. Hopefully you can see if they’re the hands-on type of chaperones or if they plan on staying upstairs in their bedroom for the party…

    But it’s difficult. Yes to the ride home from a senior friend (girl) in her mom’s minivan. No to the ride home from a senior teammate (guy) in his dad’s Tahoe. It doesn’t make sense to them but it makes sense to me.

    And most of all now we have to trust that all the education and values that we have instilled in them will be remembered. I tell him often that “if you stand up for yourself and say no to drugs/ alcohol at a party, I guarantee that there will be kids there grateful that they can follow you and say no too.”

    And prayer. And crossing our fingers & hoping for the best.

  11. My decision isn’t Prom yet, but I have a preteen daughter. The one I swore would NEVER be allowed to wear clothes from “that” store because I think their advertising is over the top and sexualizes young teens. But then she got to be this age and asked to be allowed to look for jeans there. She is a well-adjusted, modestly-dressed young woman who doesn’t look or act older than her age and would just like to have the same brand of jeans as the rest of her friends. I still don’t care for the store, but I respect and trust my child. Maybe she can be the example that you can dress stylish and on trend without looking trashy.

    I guess I’m hoping that if we show her how to make good choices and that we respect her judgement on the little things, that she will be equally trustworthy on the big things.

  12. When I was in high school, I was in a large co-ed group of friends who went everywhere together and had co-ed sleepovers after prom and after high school graduation, it was not uncommon for us all to spend the night at a friend’s house together. It was a true friendship and my guy friends looked out for us girls like sisters and we looked out for them. I don’t remember a discussion with my parents about the co-ed sleepovers (and that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, I just don’t remember) but I know they were okay with it. I think they were comfortable with me being in those situations because they knew my friends and their character and by allowing me to be in the situation the first time, I showed them I could handle it and earned their trust.

    Trust is a two way street. You trusted your child and his friends and in return, I think you gained your son’s trust and respect for trusting him.

  13. I thought this was so well written! And I can relate, because growing up, my parents were the ones who hosted these types of parties. I grew up in Kenya as a missionary kid, and there was not much to do after dark…not to mention you can’t get a drivers license till your 18, and it’s not safe to be out late in many parts of town! Since we lived so close to my high school, my parents frequently allowed me to have my group of friends (about 20+ guys and girls) over for pizza, movies, and hanging out in the backyard, jumping on the trampoline. They would usually stay the night, because many of the families lived over 45 min away (most of these friends were also missionary kids). The other parents LOVED that my parents would open up their home – it provided a safe, chaperoned environment for my friends and I to have fun together, and those are some of my best memories! I also appreciated that my parents trusted us so much – we knew that they’d be popping downstairs at any moment to see what we were up to – but all of my friends loved them, so I certainly never minded. I think the ability to be that kind of parent is wonderful – I loved my parents for creating a place for me to spend time with my friends that was safe, fun, and supervised…even though it didn’t “feel” supervised :) The overnight thing was really a matter of convenience for the other parents – and they were very thankful.

  14. We faced this issue when our oldest son was a senior. Neither we nor most of the “group” knew the parents hosting the party at their lake house more than an hour away. We ended up not having to make the decision. Our son decided there was no way he was calling his girlfriend’s dad and asking for permission to take her to a co-ed sleepover after prom. They ended up going to the lake the next day and having a wonderful time. (My husband and I hosted a midnight bfast and movie time for him and a couple of friends who opted not to go.)

    I UNDERSTAND your angst…..

  15. I thought this was a wonderful article. I would have been as pensive as you. And I am so happy you got the wisdom from God you needed—to go talk to the parents. You cannot control your kids anymore than you control the circumstances of that party. But you CAN arm yourself with as much info to make an informed decision, and pray for the strength you need. Well done.

  16. This was like reading a really intense part of a favorite novel!! I think I’m ultra on-the-edge-of-my-seat b/c I have a tween daughter and I’m slowly edging my way into this gray (grey?) area!! I loved the ending, though, and aren’t you soooooo relieved those parents had such good intentions and followed through??!!! It is so hard being the ‘bad guy’ and always feeling like we’re saying NO. And just as hard deciding when the yes’s really matter. Great post.

  17. Thanks for sharing! I am not yet a mother but I appreciate this valuable advice. I’m a preemptive mommy-blog reader, I guess. I’m not too far removed from my teen years as it is, and I hope to remember your words down the road when I have my own teenagers. I’ve always intended to follow the following parenthood advice:

    When they are small, listen to every little thing they tell you, really listen. Because to them, all the things they say are big things. And then, when they are older, they will continue to tell you their big things.

  18. Good post. My son was invited to a girls 16th birthday party. I don’t know her or family. So I took son to the party and introduced myself to her and her mom. Son was allowed to stay. We must stand up or our beliefs and feelings.

  19. Thank you for such a thoughtful post. I loved it!

    (I was a super responsible teen, so I love that you trusted him and called parents! I hope to be the same way even if it’ll drive me crazy with worry.)

  20. My children are now 37 and 34 and did survive the teen years with very few major issues. I am thankful. But in this day and age of unrestrained values and ideals if they were teens now, my decision most likely would have been no. Or the other choice I would have done was to go with them and volunteer as a parent helper. My husband did that most of their teen years in youth group activities that way we knew and they knew, dad was near and watching. It is a rough world out there and one can raise good kids but it has to be a total commitment on both sets of parents if possible to raise them with values. The other KEY is to stay firm and don’t give in.

  21. While I am not a parent of teens (2 kids under 6), I think this is awesome. My husband and I want to be the parents hosting the after-prom party because I remember our after-prom parties tucked away in a rented house in a nearby city – no safe place for hormone raging teenagers. Thanks for the great idea!

    • Us too! Our boys are very young, but one of my friends has FOUR teenagers. The first time we were at their house (when all the kids were in middle school), I took one look at her backyard – trampoline, play structure, bbq pit, hot tub, etc – and said, “Wow, you’re kind of setting yourself up to be the host of all your kids’ friends, aren’t you.” And her simple reply was, “Isn’t that the point.”

      Of course, all the STUFF is nothing compared to her nature of welcome and inclusion (plus lot of food!) that just naturally draws people in. Her kids know they can ALWAYS invite friends for dinner, host the pre-football feed, have the team over to watch a big game, etc. As a consequence, she KNOWS all her friends kids’ and has a much stronger grasp on which kids to trust, etc. I pray we can cultivate the same environment in our own home!

  22. avatar
    Laura Amann says:

    Great post! As the parent of two teenagers, I’m only too aware of the blurred boundaries that exist so often. I’m also more aware of my prejudices – sometimes the “different” looking kids are the really good kids – they’re only experimenting with dress, clothes, makeup whereas sometimes the “clean cut” kids are the ones pushing the boundaries. Not always of course but my expectations are frequently and surprisingly challenged by these teen years. My daughters have switched social groups since going to high school and I don’t know many of their friends’ parents. Like you, I’m amazed that more of them don’t introduce themselves to me or touch base. We’ve taken my kids’ friends kids of state to our lake house and never heard a word from the parents! I can’t imagine that. But in this age of cell phones, they just call their child’s cell phone when they pick up/drop off and parents are cut out of the loop.
    In any event, really great piece. I love reading about the challenges and rewards of parenting teens – there isn’t enough out there!

  23. I needed this today. We have a 17 yr old boy – he is a great kid and has proved himself responsible in many situations. But, I struggle with saying yes. I could completely relate to your reaction and the whole situation. My husband often reminds me that our son has to make some of this own mistakes, he has to be responsible for some of this own choices – and then reminds me that we raised him to make good choices and be an independent adult.
    I just keep plugging away at this parenting thing – depending on lots of prayer! Thank you for sharing your heart!

  24. I have an almost 13 yo daughter and I have to make choices regarding how much freedom she gets at this stage. I completely relate to your apprehension and love that you could come to the decision to permit your son to attend and that all was fine.
    I wish that I could always say yes, that I had no reason for concern- I try to balance the concern with my trust of my daughter- so that I can be a responsible & reasonable parent. Concerned but not overly restrictive, confident but not overly permissive.
    But whatever the decision, discussion and understanding the reason is important. Not the ‘because I said so’ from the parent of yesteryear.
    Curious though, why you were nervous about feedback. Did you expect that you would be criticized for ultimately saying ‘yes’ or for your reluctance until the end? I am not familiar with the inner workings of the average parent brain these days and wonder what the typical reaction would be.
    Thank you for being brave enough to post this- I found it helpful in many ways. And while I’ve heard it before, it was especially helpful to read “seek to understand before you seek to be understood” applied to parenting. While I strive for this notion, I need this reminder. As a teacher to our children, explaining and seeking understanding becomes automatic. Sometimes I need reminding to extend the courtesy of listening to them.

  25. My own mom governed by her Imagination Gone Wild, even though I never gave her a reason not to trust me. I wish she’d wrestled, as you have. What a blessing you are–thank you so much for sharing your heart. My boys are small right now, but they will grow up and I, too, will have to make the hard decisions. I will never forget your story. Thank you so very much!!!

  26. avatar
    Bonnie Jean says:

    My oldest wanted to go to the prom and an after party. I knew that there would be drinking… even though they were all under the age limit. But I let him go because he was already 18 and I figured I wanted him to make his first mistakes where I could pick him up. Not when he was hundreds of miles away at college. At 18 he could legally do whatever he wanted and move out. I felt that it was better to keep the door open. We discuss his life now and then and I make suggestions and then shut my mouth. He used to be a really involved Christian… but legalism in his church turned him off… I am divorced and he started going to a church I disapprove of with his biological father. Now he does not go at all. I am praying that Proverbs verse will come true about training up a child in the way he should go… but it is hard. Last night he went to a “World Peace Concert with the Dalai Lama.” There were other groups he liked there, but I hate how Christianity has become like a disease among academics… when we were the ones who started 90% of all US large colleges/universities. It is very hard to be a mother of 17 to 25 year olds. Way worse than the terrible twos… which were not terrible with my kids.

  27. Robin I love, love, love reading your posts about parenting teenagers. It reminds me that I’m parenting my 2 year old to become an adult, not to stay a child. That all the extra time it takes to teach him “how” and “why” is so critical for later on.

  28. I received some wonderful advice before my children reached the age when they would be going to the homes of people I didn’t personally know; call the parents of the child and say/ask “It is so wonderful that you have offered to host all of these teenagers in your home, you are so brave. I would like to help you in any way I can by providing snacks or helping to chaperone. What can I do?”
    Our offers of help have never been turned down and it always starts the conversation for what the expectations and arrangements are for the kids.
    I’ve never had that conversation end up poorly, and I’ve never felt uncomfortable with the expectations and arrangements, so I’ve never had to turn my kids down. But, my kids also know that this is what I do, so they aren’t going to ask me to go somewhere they shouldn’t either.

    When our 16 year old daughter went to prom this spring we were relieved when they had a post-prom home to go to. I knew that they hadn’t left the dance early to go party hopping, that they arrived on time and safe, that they were chaperoned by a responsible adult and that nobody was allowed to leave until morning. I sent breakfast :D

    • Thank you for sharing that advice. What a great way to open up the conversation with other parents.

    • Yes, thank you. That’s a great idea. My son agonizes when I make him give me the phone number of the parent. Too bad. I’ve never called to check up but I like to have him know I’ve “got my eye on him.”

    • I’m writing that line down for the future! Great advice.

  29. We are in the throws of this right now with our 14-soon to be 15 year old.
    It’s refreshing to be honest and change my mind – but it’s rarely without anguish…
    thanks for sharing your experience. Gives me hope that I’m not the only one struggling…

  30. For whatever reason this post made me tear up a little…I think it’s because I know all of this ahead of me (with two boys: 3 & 7 years old) and I don’t look forward to those tough decision making processes…but also because I want to be the type of parents who hosts those kind of parties and just loves other people’s kids well b/c so many of my friends parents did that for me and I didn’t have a safe home to begin with. So, I’m happy that they did that, and I love that you went over there to express concern and I also love that you finally said yes. What I love most about this post is your ending:
    “Parenting teens is complicated. If you treat every decision as black and white, you’re going to drive a wedge in your relationship with your children.” I think you could also substitute in the words, “parenting each child in the same way will drive a wedge..” This is what I’m feeling now with my boisterous, headstrong 3 year old and my calm, passive, servant-leader 7 year old. So yeah, I’m crying….parenting is tough. Thanks for sharing.

  31. Robin,

    Thanks for writing and sharing this experience with your son. I work and write about parents and teenagers and often find myself talking with Mothers and Fathers who are trying their very best to help their teen make wise decisions. Thank you for breaking down your thought process through this entire situation.

    This is my first visit to this site, but I’ll be looking for more of your writing in the future!

    Thanks again, Becky

  32. Wow. Tough decision. Recently my son attended a co-ed sleep over but I didn’t have to wrestle at all b/c the parents are close friends and we are entirely confident of their values – as of those of their three teens. The boys slept outside and the girls inside when they finally got some sleep. I live in a small town and my son, who had always homeschooled, began attending a local highschool last year. I know many of the parents through community events but I’ve worked hard to find occasion to approach parents of some of the boys I don’t know. They often seem kind of surprised that I’d want to meet them and I’ve never had anyone do the same of me (make an effort to meet me if our boys are friends). Yes, these years are full of tough decision making and asking the Lord for wisdom. Thanks for sharing your story.

  33. Great decision and a great outcome!
    The only thing I would and I am sure you as well would have changed is to go over to the host parents right away to talk to them. It would have saved you so much anguish, but than again that is not always our first thought, right!
    When I first read of the after- party at a families house in your post, this was actually my first thought, parents thinking ahead who do not want their teenage children lurking around the streets after prom.
    Very admirable family for such forethought!

  34. Love the post. Parenting teenagers is not always black and white, is it? I hate reading about parents saying “I would never allow my child to do this”. But I have learned and am currently learning that you have to make the best decision for YOU and YOUR TEEN.

    Thanks for being honest and letting us peek into the real world of a mom and teen.

  35. avatar
    Deb Christensen says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your process! My husband and I are parents of 4 young adults and it seems our parenting styles are very similar. Looking back on our teen years, I have to say they were challenging, but not difficult. I have to say, being black and white with our teens is not a wise approach. Our parenting approach was grounded in principles, not rules, so we were engaged in every aspect of our children’s lives, which requires constant communication. I applaud your commitment to your values and I applaud your decision in allowing your son to attend the after prom party. I can so relate to your statement of being angry for being placed in a position of having to make a decision. They prove to be some of the best teaching opportunities for our kids and learning experiences for us. The host parent’s response was great, too!

    We hosted after prom parties for our our sons for the same reasons your host parents did, and we had the exact situation arise with our only daughter. We said “yes” after going through the same process you did. After all our research and talking it through with our kids, we did say no when they asked to go on a Senior trip to Mexico. No way, Jose!

  36. Yes, I have anguished over decisions with my young teen. We are just beginning this journey and have two more to follow. It is also challenging as we moved to a new state, school, church, etc. I appreciate your sharing about this.

  37. Parenting teens is hard! And I’ve been guilty of just what you described–judging others. I also put off making decisions because it is so hard! No wise words from me. I have one at college and 4 more teens at home. It hasn’t gotten any easier and I still feel that I am floundering along this path of parenthood.

  38. I’m wondering where you live, we went through almost the exact thing with my daughter’s prom this year :) although the sleep over was not co-ed.
    I also worried and worried, talked to the parent’s hosting the party, then also the other parent’s who were picking up all the girls to let them sleepover at their home. Like your story, it is shocking to discover how many parents didn’t call wanting more information! My daughter had a great time, one that she will remember! It could not have happened without her being the responsible, moral, young lady that she is, or us not trusting her and the hosting parents. I totally agree with you, that there are other parents who would watch out as much as I would, it is just a matter of double checking that everything is on the up and up, and that morals are close to my families.
    Thank you for sharing this great post!

  39. Don’t have a teenager yet, just a preteen. I always say to myself that she’ll never know how many times I said no, but wanted to say yes. Parenting these years is rough – you definitely need a backbone.

  40. Cool. I love how you were brave enough to ask the right questions and see for yourself. Even if you did say “no” at least it would have been an informed decision and not one based on blind fear. I remember my teen years (so long ago) and nearly all of us were good, most of us stayed out of trouble or tried, and only a very few went looking. So it’s nice to remember that while bad things do happen with teens that make bad decisions, most of them are good and need some adventures of their own too. Very responsible and brave mommy you are.

  41. Oh Robin,
    I wish you were my next door neighbor! Thank you for this post. We are trying to parent like you and your husband and we just had a situation last week with our high school aged son. Started with a no, ended up with a yes and we were SO grateful we heard him out. Thankful there are other parents out there trying to raise Godly kids. If you ever think you need a change of address, could you move to Santa Barbara?

  42. Great article!! My son is a highschool freshman and as i read ,like you i was a big NO way. And also felt how could parents put other familys in this position! But as i read on i too would have agreed under those circumstances . It all comes down to knowing and being involved with your childs friends and their family or finding out researching the families you are not familiar with. also not having a problem to say NO when it looks like trouble.

  43. I hardly comment but my husband and I had this EXACT same decision two weeks ago, basically down to every detail..our son is 17, going to homecoming with a group of “great kids”, after-party at a kiddos’ house we didn’t know though…..co-ed, etc. We love and trust our teen who is believer and very strong in his faith….but really? All night somewhere with his girlfriend and my eyes not on him? I wavered too….discussed with other parents, and finally realized I HAD to trust him. He was going to be out of my sight in one and half-short years (college) and he could make his own decisions based then……We did decide to let him go AFTER speaking with the mom and getting ALL the plans, etc. She too, cooked breakfast for them, no one slept and all was good. But it was one of the hardest decisions we ever made. One mom did say no but after talking to the “host” relented. :) At this critical time in my teen son’s life, I have seen him lean on the Lord, be honest with us in everything, and make wise choices thus far…..based on that, we said “You can go”. WE have an open relationship and we are close so I think that helped. Regardless, it was hard. I think I am rambling now but just putting it into words…wow. When I ready your post I was like “that was us 2 weeks ago”!!!! WE always pray that wherever we have failed/messed up Lord, please fill in the gaps and we are so grateful He is faithful. :)

  44. I really enjoyed your post. I have kids that range from 16 to 2 years old. I agree that teenage years are much different. I never thought I would say this, but raising a 2 year old is much easier! (More black and white I guess!) I have said “yes” when I should have said “no” and vice a versa. One time I checked everything out, asked my questions, and was assured that all will be well. But there was that nagging gut feeling that I should still say no. I ignored that gut feeling because I reasoned that I did not have any reason for it. I told myself that everything passed my scrutiny. I said yes, and I learned later that I should have said no. It was a very bad situatuion. Very, very, bad! What did I learn? That sometimes it is okay to say “no” because your gut is telling you too.

    • Heather,

      Thank you for sharing as far as it being best to follow your gut. I’m in a situation right now where my gut is saying no, but my husband thinks I’m being ridiculous.

  45. Fantastic post! I love how it all worked out in the end. I’m pretty sure my husband would say no before my daughter could even finish asking the question and wouldn’t even consider meeting the parents before making a final decision.

  46. 1st, I commend you for publicly sharing what so many parents are embarassed to discuss: potentially being a ‘bad guy’. Esp. in this age where so many parents abdicate their role! We were often considered the ‘tough’ parents when it came to such matters but we have 2 fine young men who appreciate what we did and value our opinions. Because teens far too often lack parents who will teach life skills &… I wrote the book Teens! Improve Your Life – Don’t Overlook The Obvious and set up a site for teens, http://www.TeensImproveYourLife.com – Once again, I commend you!

  47. I am saving this post for when my 5 year old daughter reaches her teen years!

  48. Great article Robin.
    My son is only 11 but i’m sure situations like this will arise. I took what you said to heart, and when the time arises i hope i have the belief in my judgement to say yes when i want to say no.

  49. Wow. The comments here are fascinating. I had a completely different take on this post. It really, really bothered me that you didn’t trust your son. While I absolutely would have spoken with the hosting parents, too, for my own peace of mind, I would never express such lack of faith in my children, especially a child that has done nothing to garner distrust. I feel like that’s a horrible misstep. I am glad this worked out so well in the end, but as the daughter of open-minded parents and now a very open-minded parent myself, I would encourage you to put more faith in your children. I found myself a bit angry and frustrated on your son’s behalf just reading this and I wonder how he felt about the situation.

    • I have a teenage son and When i read the article i didnt think she was mistrusting her child. More likely just did not want him in a wrong situation in the first place. How many times have you seen good kids mixed up in a bigger picture that was trouble. ? I trust my child but that doesnt mean i will ok whatever to prove we trust him.

  50. I’m thankful my parents took a similar approach. We had coed sleepovers on rare, special occasions- prom, once when a blizzard threatened (brave parents to host that one!), etc. All of our parents knew each other, which would make all the difference in the world. I think that they also knew our Young Life leaders so well, and they were also keeping tabs on us. I have great memories that involve my parents trusting me while also keeping boundaries in place- like you did.

  51. My son is only 10 but I feel I’ve already had moments like this. But I want to share what my high school used to do back in the 80s. After the traditional prom w/ theme decor in the gym, the high school rented a function hall where the prom goers would go for a meal & dancing b/t 12pm & 5am. That way kids were off the road, supervised, and had fun. Giant win win for all.

  52. Oh, not looking forward to this stress :) Even though your no turned to yes, it was because you received more information that convinced you your son would be safe (rather than just giving in). I think that ultimately your guidance that youve been giving them throughout their lives will help them when they arent in your home.

  53. Robin, I’m so proud of you! What a tough decision. I so appreciate your humility and transparency. My older boys are 14 and just in high school, so I am at the beginning of this journey. Adolescence has already been quite difficult for me, in part because I’m not willing to leave problems alone. So I tend to blast right through whatever is wrong immediately. I’m trying to be more gentle, but it’s slow going.

  54. You just convinced me to be the mum who holds the prom (well, formal, in our case) after party… It will be a while off though, my eldest is three! I was a big fan of the co-ed sleep over when was in high school, as I was a terrible tomboy and all my friends were guys. I wouldn’t want my daughters to miss out on the same experience if they are in the same position. But I still want them wrapped in cotton wool until they are twenty! It’s a hard line to walk, but you seem to be managing admirably. Beautifully written, thanks for sharing it with us all.

  55. The older your children are, the more complicated you’ll find decisions to be.

  56. While I don’t know all the details in your situation, I feel very strongly that our culture is overly busy and that we all need to have down time. Time to think and create. On the other hand it is true that a sense of responsibility and contribution is also essential. Balance. Does he have chores at home beyond just his own room and taking out the trash? Does he contribute towards the family and the community? A balance of work and volunteer and play. It’s all essential and yet it’s different for each person, for each child. Is it in James or Hebrews where it tells us to ask for wisdom and then to rest in faith knowing he’s delivering what we’ve asked for. God Bless!

  57. Robin, my favorite post of yours. Ever.

  58. avatar
    Kari Scare says:

    Your story brought tears to my eyes. My boys will be 14 and 12 in December, so I know these types of decisions are coming. Your experience is a lesson I will learn from and apply for sure. It is a seed planted that will take root and grow into fruit that I can pick when it is needed. An answer to prayer, really. Thank you.

  59. avatar
    lynne moore says:

    Great post. I think it is hard to contact other parents sometimes. The teens don’t have to go thru the parents all the time when they have their own cel phones, cars, etc. friends may not be from the neighborhood anymore. We still try to meet parents face to face, but even that may be from a car window.

    I also try to evaluate what the influence of my teen will be by being there. My child is a passive leader. She has been the one to make a stand, so I would have to think about whether her presence might make a difference if it was needed. And I remind her also, she can call me. Anytime. I will always be on her side – she can even call me and tell me she needs me to be the bad-guy, if she needs to pretend the idea wasn’t hers to get a ride home. (And she has said things like, “I was invited to someone’s house, but will you tell me I can’t go….”)

  60. Robin friend, I loved reading this. Zack + I are going to have our first child in March and so my ears are perking up to stories like this. What a beautiful example of what being a hands-on parent looks like, thank you for sharing this with us. XO

  61. Robin, thank you for sharing this wonderful post. My daughters are only 5 and 3, but I have nieces who are teenagers/about to be and I see my siblings wrestling with these types of situations, and I know I will be facing them at some point, too! Glad this turned out well for you, and thank you for sharing your thought process, etc!

  62. This post gave me goosebumps. love you and how you parent so well.

  63. Thank you! I so often feel like the bad guy. We have raised our 14 year old to “use his words” & he does so well. I love your method & my heart aches for the kids whose parents let them go without asking questions of the hosts.

  64. avatar
    Cassandra says:

    I thank you so much for this wonderful post! I have 2 young girls who will be teenagers before I know it. I love the way you handled this situation. My one question is, what if you had gone to these parents house and spoken with them only to decide it maybe wasn’t the best situation for your son? Maybe their living situation or rules or plans for the party didn’t sound like a safe situation? I know you would have said no deal but how would you handle the awkwardness of saying no even after you met them and heard what they had to say?

  65. I appreciate this a lot. An experience on the flip side…when I was about 14 I was invited to a “lock-in” party that I desperately wanted to attend. My parents said no and I fought it. My dad let me know how wrong it felt to him. After the party, friends told me about what happened there, and it was definitely not a situatiin I should have been in. I wrote a letter to my dad thanking him for listening to God and his heart and not to me. I’m so happy that this wasn’t one of those situations, but when we know our parents have our best interests at heart, we’re eventually grateful for those tough decisions.

  66. Love the article. I want to be the cool parent who has the after party for the kids to have a safe haven. I love how you followed up with the host family without being judgmental, just honest and questioning. I strive to say yes more and understand circumstances better when I want to immediately say no.

  67. Thankyou. That was wonderful. We have a freshman in high school this year and we’re starting to open a few gates for him (band, swim team, track and such) Along with all these new obligations, events options are opening for him so, I’m trying hard to saying “yes” and allow him more freedom… but it’s scary and hard. I have a great son and he deserves my cautious open mindedness.

  68. Wow. This one hits home…like NOW. I’ve already gone through two teens, and still have two to go. I go through the ‘imagination gone wild’ all.the.time.

    I have a situation right now where a parent wants to take 5 teens to an amusement park for a birthday party 3 hours away. My son is 15…and I’m just not sure about letting him go. I go back and forth all the time. It’s tough, but I’ll have to come up with a decision soon.

  69. You made all the right decisions in this situation. Kudos to you for being the mom to voice her concerns in an honest conversation with your teen. We are parenting two teens as well, and I strive daily to keep the lines of communication open and stay aware of who their friends are, where they are ‘hanging out’, and expressing my concerns while allowing more freedoms. We walk a tightrope when we parent our teens. Thank you for sharing!

  70. Raising teens is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever had to do! I have ridden this coaster of decision making many times. God grant us grace to do our jobs well.

  71. Thank you so much for sharing this! I’m a young mother, with a 2.5 year old son and a daughter on the way. As a former “wild child” I fear that I’ll be the insanely over-protective parent as they enter their teen years! I was given far too much freedom when I was young and am already worried about suffocating my children with lack of trust because of my past. What I loved about your post was not just this situation, but the ongoing trust and openness you’ve developed with your children. Its clear that they know what you expect from them and they have a high level of respect for you.

  72. Robin, I related so much with your post – the struggle, the resentment, the seeking wisdom, and wanting to make a good long-range decision as a parent. Thank you for sharing this story. I know it’s one I’ll remember when my children are teenagers.

  73. I love this. I love the journey you walked to make the decision. I love that you felt good about it at the end and did what it took to feel the peace you needed to feel. I felt like I came away blessed to have “met” a truly wise parent. awesome.

  74. I only have little bitties right now, so I can’t share an experience. But, I wanted to let you know that I am saving this article to read in the future. It is a great reminder that we need to get details, not be afraid to ask questions, and be willing to change our minds. Love this! Thank you!

  75. avatar
    Yvette Primero says:

    I loved this post and all of the other comments/ideas. As a single parent I ALWAYS feel like I am under the microscope and I will admit I overreact. My daughter is 15 and she just recently approached me about dating…I freaked and said no. Then I stepped back much like you did and went about asking for opinions and insight. I also changed my mind and felt good about it because now the door is open for us to communicate which is what I want most. I am not saying anything goes (she said no to the date anyway) but at least now we can negotiate what is appropriate. She feels more responsible for her direct actions and I feel like I am still able to parent. WHEW!

  76. We are foster parents, so our first year of parenting experience was 3 teenagers (with serious problems, whom we didn’t really know). Despite our teenager-based careers (educators and church youth workers), living with them was intense. We consistently spent the kind of time you did on this decision, and in only a few months, it changed those teenagers’ lives, because they learned how much thoughtfulness should go into big decisions. It was an exhausting way to parent, but intensely necessary and fulfilling.

  77. I love this post. I can relate to your feelings even with an 8-year-old child. Other parents decisions driving wedges and inducing decisions we would otherwise not encounter. I admired how you reached out for advice. I loved how your son was patient and respectful. I love that you went to the parent’s house, and that they were wonderful, engaged and that the kids had a good time. What a relief to know that, indeed, there are other parents out there who are on the same page, who want their children to be safe and have fun, just as you would. How surprising to know that other parents had not done the same? Was it a peer pressure thing? Afraid to look “overprotective” ? Not wanting to be “those parents?”
    Your decision-making process was sound, and set a wonderful example for your son, who will soon be making these types of decisions for himself. It is so hard to let them go, even with their wonderful intentions, knowing how cruel and unpredictable the world can be. Bless you.

  78. avatar
    Christina Emmons says:

    This is just beautiful. The struggle, the questions, the decision, and the outcome. Thank you for sharing all of it.

  79. I have little kids so cannot relate as a mom. I have worked with middle schoolers & high schoolers in my church for years and seen parents wrestle with similar situations. When I was a teenager, I wished my parents would have gotten to know some of my friends and their parents–and checked up on me more. It’s amazing how kids crave this.

  80. “if WE were hosting a post-prom party, WE could be trusted to supervise the kids in a way parents wouldn’t have to worry. What arrogance to think no one else could do the same” – what a beautiful observation. Thank you for being honest about your decisions and the struggle to get there.

  81. avatar
    Nicki Crawford says:

    I think you handled the situation great. I applaud the host parents for wanting to provide a “safe haven” on prom night. As a parent of one teen girl and soon to be teen boy/girl twins, I would have liked for the host parents to provide that info up front to the other parents. “Just wanted you to know what we have planned for the kids” type thing, the kind of info they told you when you visited, especially if they didn’t know you before hand.
    All good info going into a file for future reference.

  82. The older your children are, the more complicated you’ll find decisions to be.

  83. I found this post fascinating because when I was 17 I was living alone in my own home and working full time to support myself. When my brother was 18, he was backpacking around Europe. My grandparents had been out of school and working for years by that age, and my grandfather went to war when he was 18. But I also have a teen daughter and know I will be facing these kinds of decisions soon, and I wonder how my personal experience will affect the decisions I make for her. But even typing that sentence felt weird – I hope by 17 she will be able to make wise, sensible, mature decisions for herself, and that she’ll come to me as a trusted guide and mentor. But I suspect 17 these days is much younger than it was in my day, and that I will be called upon to make complicated decisions as a parent. I hope I will be as careful and open-minded as you.

  84. avatar
    sassjemleon says:

    no such thing as a “safe haven” for a teenage party, no matter how connected and in touch the parents think they are; there will be drinking and/or drugs and sex at any teenage party, no matter what kind of supervision is there. does not matter how you raised your child, they will be experimenting with all the things you don’t want them to experiment with….

  85. Thank you for this article. I was raised without many rules, or parent protection. My mom was a “friend” and I was allowed to go off with my boyfriend because I was “trusted.” I would not have admitted it then, but can share now how much I craved a parents authority. I craved the security of boundaries and having someone care enough to say “no.”

    So I parent my daughters with a lot of boundaries and protection. Yes, I’m that mom and very familiar with being the bad guy. Not allowing situations that invite temptation or associations that mar reputation. The challenge for me as a mom is finding the healthy balance of protecting their hearts, teaching them their royal worth as God’s daughters, while allowing them to grow up and become adults who make good choices on their own. The idea that we’re the only responsible parents out there is indeed arrogant, thank you for that thought. Getting to know my kids’ friends and their parents really has been key.

    Thanks for the very real example of paddling this boat we moms are all in. I think you handled it beautifully. Good job.

  86. avatar
    shish smith says:

    I found this site when I googled parenting decisions for teens. At present I have an 18 year old high school senior and a 14 years old freshman, both girls. When they were young I did not feel stressed about, or change my parenting decisions. As simple as it sounds I just made them and remained consistent. Lately I find I often change my mind or second guess my decisions. My parents seemed to have it clearly figured out. They said no to just about anything that was fun or my peers were doing. This caused me to get creative and do it anyway. It also created zero moderation and a very wild college life just as soon as I left home.
    I find that I have a foot in both worlds. While I strive for their safe and healthy life and I also want to provide some leeway for moderation and good decision making. My oldest has always maintained an open, honest and trustworthy relationship with me. It completely defies most odds that her truthfulness is steadfast, and her decisions have been exceptional. More recently however, this relied upon behavior has had some more quiet moments from her and not quite as forthright with telling me every detail. I have learned that parenting is not black and white and that change, as always, is constant. Parenting with teens has been an eye opener to realizing that now the hard work begins.

  87. avatar
    Momagain says:

    Perhaps other parents gave permission without contacting the other parents because they trusted their kids, their kid’s friends, and their kid’s friend’s parents. They already new the things your daughter and others whom you asked that told you let him go about the driving laws and the hosts good intentions and reliability. Perhaps their own children even pointed out those details, unlike your son, evidently? Or were you not listening when he tried?

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