Dear Parent Coach,
My friend’s very mature, very responsible 16-year-old high school senior and her five friends (most aged 17, one 18) want to stay in a family cabin at Big Bear and spend a ski weekend by themselves. They have been upfront about the plans: no parents, no boys, and no objectionable substances are to be included. Their argument is that they’ll be on their own at college next year, so why not let them practice their independence now? My friend is asking me if I think this is wise. What would you say?
Signed, A Mother of
Two Boys, Whew!
Dear Mother of Two Boys,
Your friend’s daughter’s request for a weekend away with friends would not be unusual, and one many teens might make as seniors. A normal part of adolescent development involves this gradual push for more and more independence on the part of the teen, and a corresponding and gradual letting go by parents, when safe.
Only a parent knows best how responsible and trustworthy their own teen has proven to be in past situations. However, there are many other factors that come into play beyond a teen’s maturity level in this quest for independence.
As you describe your friend’s daughter, who is definitely pushing for that sought-after independence, three general thoughts regarding teens come to mind. The first is about a teen’s thinking process. An interesting fact about the adolescent brain is that the frontal lobe isn’t fully developed until late adolescence (college and beyond). Therefore, young teens have a unique and somewhat limited way of reasoning. Parents have the responsibility to help fill in the blanks regarding issues that teens disregard.
In addition, teens are also risk takers. They acknowledge that unfortunate incidents happen to other people, but are pretty convinced that nothing will ever happen to them. Therefore, they plunge forward with a great deal of enthusiasm and energy, unburdened by fears and “what ifs.” It is parents who must bring these words into the conversation.
Lastly, during these years of intense social involvement, teens often make decisions based on what their peers are doing. Therefore, a generally responsible, trust-worthy teen can easily be caught up in the moment and carried along with the crowd mentality, throwing caution to the wind.
By the way, who in the group is defining “objectionable substances”?
The ultimate goal for most parents is to raise a very capable and independent child. They hope to eventually send them off to college ready to handle a plethora of life lessons that will present themselves the first year away from home. Giving increased responsibility along the way prepares children for this, and high school presents many opportunities for maturing.
Therefore, giving teens practice handling more responsibility while still at home is basically a good plan, remembering that parents are in the wings ready to help if things go awry. Along these same lines, teaching and guiding teens how to handle money with a checking account, limited debit and credit cards, and staying within a budget during senior year, would be a great thing to practice before college.
For these teen girls, the Big Bear cabin plan seems to be one of these reliability-proving experiences. They feel they’re responsible enough to handle such an experience, and they may well be.
However, their thinking doesn’t seem expansive enough to include possible risks or how to handle unexpected circumstances beyond their control. It’s the apparent absence of taking these possibilities into serious consideration by teens that drives parents crazy.
If this were my daughter, my biggest objection to the plan would be the driving distance from home, which makes immediate parental help very difficult in case of an emergency. Also of concern would be fairly inexperienced teen drivers manipulating mountain roads, especially with snow and ice; totally not part of a California teen’s everyday driving experience.
It is true that your friend’s daughter and her adventurous buddies will probably all be off to college next year. However, then is not now, and there is still time for them to develop even more responsibility, maturity, and sharper thinking before they set off on their own.
It is a parent’s job, through careful parenting, to fine tune a teen’s dependability and trustworthiness by agreeing to independent activities that are fun yet safe at the same time. Here are some suggestions you can share with your friend.
1. Assure your daughter that you trust her and find her and her friends to be responsible and mature, and that your concerns aren’t based on your distrust of her.
2. Explain that the distance from home makes you uncomfortable, making parental help difficult if anything went wrong.
3. Express other concerns: driving on mountain roads after dark or in icy conditions, word getting out to other teens that a weekend cabin has no parents on site, injury on the ski slopes, etc.
4. Remember that other parents often come forward to verbalize their concerns as well, and plans such as these often begin to dissolve before they’re fully developed.
5. If the push for this plan is strong, offer to stay with another mom in a hotel nearby, making yourselves available for immediate help, occasional check-ins, and also for driving.
6. Suggest saving this idea until after high school graduation. At that time, work out a compromise plan at a location closer to home, perhaps a beach house 45 minutes away. Of course, some parental involvement always insures safety.