I used to think that by a certain age, kids learned to make good choices. My mistake.
And though my kids have forbidden me from using them as examples in this article, I have no problem outing my friends and their kids. (You guys don’t mind, right?) It seems no matter what our offspring end up doing, they always claim the problem was that we never told them exactly what not to do.
A good friend of mine has a son with autism. Her son, I’ll call him H., is a bright 13-year-old boy who, during these fabulous years of puberty, is becoming more and more independent. After deplaning at O’Hare a few weeks ago, H. announced he needed to use the restroom. My friend took her son to the entrance of the men’s room, and began going down the list of things to do and things not to do. “Keep your eyes in front of you at the urinal. Don’t forget to zip your fly. Remember to wash your hands.”
All went well until H. walked out of the men’s room, smiling and swigging from a can of Diet Pepsi he did not have when he had entered. Apparently, H. had discovered the soda can someone left in the restroom. What my friend had forgotten to say, of course, was, “Don’t drink from the half empty Pepsi you find on the sink.” Her bad.
Another friend of mine put her son J. on an airplane alone for the first time. He was nine years old and on his way to visit his grandma and grandpa in Palm Springs. J. was reminded to buckle his seatbelt, be polite to the crew and not to talk to strangers. He was traveling as an unaccompanied minor, so the flight attendants were in charge. Somewhere over the Rockies, the flight attendant noticed that the passenger next to J. was getting a bit too friendly and even putting his hand on the young boy’s knee. She did the right thing and moved J. to a different seat and kept a close eye on him for the rest of the flight. After delivering the boy to his awaiting grandmother, the alert flight attendant informed her about the incident. Grandma asked J. why he was talking to a stranger. He replied, “He wasn’t a stranger, he was a passenger.” Guess my friend forgot to outline the exact definition of “stranger.” Another strike for the parent.
Then there are the kids who know exactly what’s forbidden, but bend the rules in order to suit their own needs. About 25 years ago, one crafty teenager, I’ll call her B., was told specifically not to host a party while her parents were on vacation. B.’s three older siblings were away at college, and since she was a good kid, her parents trusted her to stay home, unsupervised for the weekend. In my defense… I mean, in B’s defense, there was never an official “party.” A few people came over... 50, to be exact. This was the same year Risky Business was released. Not only should Mom and Dad have known better, but B. still wonders if she missed a great entrepreneurial opportunity and perhaps a shot at Princeton.
Even as adults, we bend rules to suit our own needs. If the new diet I’m trying says I can eat unlimited fruit, I assume two things: First, wine is a fruit. Second, cheese is a fruit. Why am I not losing weight?
There is no solution to this ongoing problem of rule clarification. And it certainly helps to have others to blame. So fellow parents, just know you can never be too literal and understand that whatever you prohibit it is not enough.
But please, do remind your kids not to drink the Pepsi left on the sink in the airport restroom.