Eyes Wide Shut: Here’s Why I DON’T Want To Know What My Teenager is REALLY Up To

By Debby Shulman

Like most parents, I want to know what’s going on in my kids’ lives.  I want them to be able to share stuff so I can guide them through the hazards and pitfalls of adolescence. Envisioning this Zen relationship in which we feel comfortable listening to the harrowing exploits of life in high school and college will make us really connected parents, right? We will create ‘open dialogues’ of the most grievous, torturous topics … birth control, sexting, vomiting on someone’s lawn, drugs, buying drugs or better yet, buying something to smoke the drug. In this enchanted, fairy tale place of ‘great sharing’ we will respond passionately and with calm sincerity.  After all, with the dangerous stuff our kids have to contend with, we want to know everything … or do we?

I thought I did, and then decided I really don’t anymore.

What good is it to experience the excruciating trials of adolescence by sharing that crap with your parents? No matter the issue, we remain the source of the problem!

In my efforts to not be the Friend Mom, but instead the Touchy-Feely-Therapist Mom, I was given my walking papers.

I was fired. I thought I was doing so well, too.

Turning my phone off during quiet rides home from school (while she furiously texts, scrolls and sighs), looking past the zit that needed a “bris” and telling her I could barely see it, asking how she ‘felt about stuff’ got me nowhere.  It was as if she couldn’t comprehend that my earnest demeanor was FOR HER BENEFIT.  She didn’t want to self-report, self-reflect, or divulge her inner-most thoughts and emotions because, as she so beautifully screamed at me: “THAT’S NOT WHAT TEENAGERS DO!”  Ahhhh, yes. My bad. I seemed to have screwed up AGAIN. Dammit.

She’s right.

What the hell was I expecting? Sweet, meaningful conversations in my bed into the wee morning hours, where we would put our heads together and solve the age-old dilemma of why girls are so bitchy?

I don’t have the heart to tell her that the girls who are bitches now are going to grow up and be even bigger bitches later on. Why spoil that fun?  Did I expect her to tell me what goes on at parties where we both know the parents are locked away upstairs (if they’re even home) and there is free-flowing booze coming out of the faucets?  Like I would have EVER divulged that information to my parents? Why did I think our kids’ generation would be so different, so engaging and so respectful of our desires to know everything about their lives?  They are not, they do not, and they don’t care. Touche.

But the real reason I was so naïve in believing that I actually wanted to know stuff was my own issue of control. If I know what’s up, I can control it.


If I am aware that there is a romance brewing with the baddest of bad asses, I can sway her away!  Wrong again.  If I can predict a party will get busted because the same parents are once again going to look the other way while a Binny’s truck practically pulls up and drops off a case of vodka, then I can protect her from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Not so much.   All of this knowledge is an invasion of her journey, her privacy and her teenage life – whether I like it or not. It’s not that I am condoning any of the above, none of us do, it is just that I thought I could control it if I knew about it.

And since I can’t, I don’t think I want to know about it anymore.

As I was getting fired from this current position, it dawned on me she might be ready to handle this stuff on her own, anyway.  Isn’t that the premise of this whole child-rearing thing?

If I continuously nag and annoy her about every sordid detail, then when she needs to tell me something, she just might not.

If I let her develop her own barometer of what is ‘Mom Worthy’ then I can hone in on touchy-feely when I need it – not as a daily mechanism for getting her to share the everyday moments of being a teenager. By letting her make those mistakes on her own without my knowledge or interference, then I suppose she is on her way to figuring out what works for her, not me … and as we all know, high school and college serve as boot camp for life.

God knows if my parents knew the scrapes I got myself out of: the snowy, winter parties I left running in bare feet because the cops were coming, the night of my 21st birthday where I collapsed on the purple, powder room floor of my sorority house swearing I would NEVER take a watermelon shot again and the road trip I might have taken to Toronto during my sophomore year … I would have never learned the lessons I did or live to see that 22nd birthday if I had chosen to share those typical teenage moments with my parents.

The gentle inquisitions have stopped.  I already went to high school and sometimes it was beyond awful.  Why did I think I wanted to go through it all again? And so the more I pull away and stop trying to soft talk my way into her social life, the less anxious I become.

I can’t freak out over what I don’t know and like all teens, there is plenty of stuff parents are NOT meant to know.

In my selfish desire to hash out what should legitimately be hers to handle, I risk stripping her of the skills she needs to get out of that party, break up with the baddest of bad asses, and know when it’s time to stop throwing back the watermelon shots.  And when she decides it’s time to seek out Touchy-Feely Mom, I’ll be more than happy to listen.

Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: Debby Shulman is a college essay consultant and academic tutor with a private practice in Northbrook, Illinois.  She also professionally collaborates with Amy Simon College Consulting in Bannockburn, Illinois.  Debby also blogs about Motherhood/Teen issues for Your Teen magazine (www.yourteenmag.com). Check out her valuable advice. 





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