Checking up on the Kids — and the Parents — at Sleepovers

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My kids are still in middle school, but already I’ve begun to take mental notes of their friends who seem most likely to become, uh, shall I say, highly adventurous teenagers. You know, the ones with whom you might not want your kid spending the weekend. But here’s the thing: When it comes to being concerned about the company your teenagers keep, it’s not just their peers you’ve got to worry about.

Sometimes, the parents are the problem.

Consider the scenario in which Molly Shattuck, Baltimore mother-of-three, allegedly invited a 15-year-old boy to spend the evening at her beach house with her same-age son and younger siblings present.

If you were this boy’s parents, would you—before deciding whether or not to allow your son to accept the invitation—grill Shattuck on her whether or not the kids would have access to alcohol or illicit substances (pre-rape allegations)?

Maybe, maybe not.

Would you ask if she planned to buy the kids beer?


Would you inquire about whether or not she would be making sexual advances toward your son (again, pre-rape allegations)?

Wouldn’t even cross your mind, would it?

Okay, this last example is extreme. After all, you sure as heck don’t expect to have to worry about your adolescent son getting raped by his friend’s mom at their beach house (although recent charges suggest this did happen to a local 15-year-old). Far more common is the scenario in which parents offer alcohol to teenagers in their homes, or turn a blind eye to illegal consumption by minors under their roof. Any one of these scenarios begs the question: Do we really know what the parents of our kids’ friends allow to happen in their homes? And, if we don’t, what are we prepared to do about it?

It’s a question I first asked myself when my kids, especially my first-born, began having play dates. I wondered the usual, mom-of-a-first-child things, like: How much sugar would they be fed? What about caffeinated drinks? How much time would they spend sitting in front of a screen, and when is lights’ out?

I never dared ask these questions of parents who were kind enough to entertain my kids for hours at a clip. I figured I would just keep my mouth shut and deal with the fallout of any post-playdate sugar highs and sleep deprivation later. But what about when kids are older, and the stakes are higher?

Am I going to look a parent in the eye, perhaps one I’ve known for years, and ask: What is your policy on teens, alcohol consumption and pot-smoking in your house? Will you be home when your 15- or 16-year-old is having friends over? Who is spending the night and, when it comes time for lights’ out, will the boys and girls be in separate rooms? These are very reasonable questions, but they’re not necessarily easy to ask. And even if we are bold enough to inquire, who’s to say that they’re going to be answered honestly?

Here’s the bottom line, as I see it: As parents, we certainly can’t control, or even pretend to know, what happens at the homes of our teens’ friends. Nor is it any use getting upset when parents of our child’s friends don’t share our values. There’s nothing we can do about that. So, what’s a parent of a teenager to do?

I think our best hope, after laying down the ground rules for our own teenagers, is to believe that the values we’ve instilled during their formative years will somehow surface when faced with circumstances that require a quick judgment call, like when someone (hopefully not their friend’s mother) offers to buy them beer, or makes other inappropriate suggestions.

If not? That will be fodder for another column; hopefully, one in the distant future.

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