Another New Role Model: Private Investigator
The parents I have studied (because I want to emulate their methods) study their teenagers. Like hired detectives, they keep track of clues in order to solve a mystery. Teenagers themselves leave the clues, both consciously and haphazardly. The mystery is: what's going on with these kids?
At a certain point in Mother Nature's little commedia, the fruits of our loins cannot be trusted. Some teenagers lie for sport; others are simply incapable of expressing the truth due to hormones (they can't make sense of any damned thing). It's up to you how much trust you extend. Many parents belong to the "trust, but verify" school, which I think mostly makes sense. Personally--and until further notice--I don't trust 'em any further than I can throw 'em.
Parents who study their kids reap two benefits.
1. They know enough to discern when a kid is in real trouble.
2. They also have the deep and abiding pleasure of being surprised by the good their kids are up to. They collect clues about behavior and make notes. Often, when the big picture of our children comes into focus, we see an awful lot of beauty. (Don't get me wrong: we also see heaps and heaps of dumb-ass.)
Because we all like practical advice we can use today, here are some observations on what it takes to be a private-eye parent.
Eight things you might find yourself doing if you want to know your kids:
1. Crawling through bushes
...or driving out of your way to show up somewhere, or placing a call to a parent you barely know, at an inappropriate hour. Just to make sure everybody is where they are supposed to be.
2. Pulling moldy cereal bowls out from under beds
Debate the need for teenaged privacy all you want. The parents I admire clean rooms, go through pockets, read journals, run hands between mattresses, strip beds, borrow cars (for the express purpose of sifting through glove compartments), check bank accounts, and monitor technology.
3. Suffering through a concert
...because you trust your kid, but you don't trust the crowd. So you say yes, she can go, but you will also be there. You will wear earplugs and you will stand at the back, but you will be there.
4. Doing research
When the kids are talking about sizzurp or mollys, urban dictionary.com is your first (and vital) stop. On the other hand, when a 'TOK' bumper sticker on a friend's car alerts your radar, a little internet research might put you right at ease. (It's a badge of honor from the International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge course, and a right fine thing for a teenager to display on her ride. Good to know.)
5. Learning how to use GPS tracking devices
...and all other creative means vigilant parents take to keep track of their kids. Instagram posts at 2:00 AM, secret (and questionable) Pinterest boards, euphemistic tweets, fantasy gaming personae, oh dear heavens, the list is endless indeed. Studying their patterns--both in real life and on social media--keeps us apprised of what teens are doing when we're not looking. (I hope it goes without saying that we should have the numbers of friends and their parents at the ready.)
6. Watching really, really stupid movies
This is harder for some parents than others, but it is imperative to educate ourselves in pop culture. What they think is funny is just awful. You know it; I know it; the grown-ups all know it. Try not to dismiss and condemn; keep the eye-rolling to a minimum. If we don't tune in a little--if we don't watch and listen along with them--we miss out on knowing the influences so powerful in our teenagers' lives. (Stay the course. Their sense of taste improves significantly every year. Your calculated exposure to classic rock and Seinfeld are not in vain.) In the meantime, if your kids beg to show you the latest Lonely Island video, thank your lucky stars they're talking to you, and watch.
7. Asking ridiculous questions
...such as, Why are you carrying a lighter in your pocket? What could you possibly have been doing there at three in the morning? What happened to the [fill in the blank with any number of frightening substances missing from household cabinets, freezers and garages]? Why are you wearing long sleeves in July? Who is this person? Why are they calling you that? What does this mean?
8. Facing the music
Ay, there's the rub. All this intelligence leads a good detective to solid conclusions. What we learn about our teens--as we study their behavior, their patterns, their influences--might be hard to handle. Resist Mama Bear's instinct to hibernate; decry the mother ostrich, who buries her head in the sand! Look instead to our new role model, the private investigator. Study your subject well and submit your report. In a clear moment, do your best to step away, take a breath, and evaluate your course of action.