Practical Dad

Friend Time vs. Family Time

Although there are still younger ones in the house, Eldest is now officially in the last semester of her senior year in high school.  In the moment of raising kids, it didn't seem as though it would end but in retrospect, it's gone quickly.  And it's now that I fully understand what other friends have said through the years:  I think that he's gonna stay home tonight since he's leaving in only a few months.  The difference is an intellectual understanding versus the visceral comprehension that you feel in your gut.  With the knowledge that your child wants to spend time with the friends but is still leaving the roost soon, how do you balance out the competing interests so that the kid gets to do what she wants while you still get to spend some meaningful time before that final departure?

Most teens are at the height of egocentrism.  While they can participate in all manner of group activities and volunteer heavily, their world still revolves around themselves and there's an understanding that when they leave high school, that world is going to change dramatically.  These bonds and friendships that have formed over the socially intense teen years will forever change as they go off to college, join the armed forces or - hopefully - get a job.  Couple that with their passion and sense of invulnerability and the world's their oyster.  Until this passage into the birth of legal adulthood, they will want to play.  

Friend time versus family time is a question with which we wrestle here.  Different parents will have different takes and levels of acceptance and my own varies as well.  But when your high school senior comes to ask whether she can spend half of the day tomorrow with some buddies, what might you consider?

  • Are there actually any family activities planned?   She is still a member of the family and there are still others living within it, others who appreciate her presence at concerts, shows or games.  While she might look upon it as a journey into Dante's Purgatory, spending time can help remind her that there are others who still enjoy her presence.  Likewise, these can help reinforce that there are certain family values that are likely not going to be emulated amongst her peers.
  • What else is going on within the schedule?  Many teens are still getting a handle on time management and if they're not used to keeping a calendar, then they're liable to be missing something; even if I don't know exactly what her schedule is, I can still ask her what's happening with things like school subjects, work, status of chores and tasks to prompt her memory. 
  • How often has she been around recently?  If she's not been to a family meal in a period of time, then it's reasonable to expect her presence to check in on things with her parents and siblings. 
  • If there are younger siblings, do they seem to miss her? 
  • Likewise, what standards do you think are being set for the younger siblings as they age?  If they perceive that the elder sibling is constantly gone, they're going to expect the same treatment.  The problem with the younger one is that they'll expect it at a younger age since they don't have a great grasp on time.  Senior sibling is going to a local concert and not home until 11 PM?  They'll remember the concert and curfew time, but they won't recall that she was a senior at that time.
  • Naturally, what are the details - who, what, when, where, how - and what's the track record?  She's still a minor and if something goes wrong, you'll get the phone call, so you can certainly put the kabosh on something even if it's going to be unpleasant in the household for awhile.
  • It's not selfish to say no if there's something that you'd like to do with her.  If she's simply going to be stuck in the house while you do whatever you do with no attention paid to her, then you might as well let her go.  But if there's something that you'd like to do, then you've got a right to your time with her

There are no simple answers and what one father finds acceptable might be another's anathema.  Parenting teens is sometimes an inexact science, but it's helpful to have a sense of what some of the considerations are when she's standing next to your chair with phone in hand and a question on her lips.

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