The Decision and Indecision of Parenting Teens

More than an ocean had separated me from my children when I returned home from two months abroad; I wondered what re-entry would look like.

More than an ocean had separated me from my children when I returned home from two months abroad; I wondered what re-entry would look like.

Would we pick right up seamless and smooth, a comma punctuating our good-bye instead of a period? Or would it be a gravel road, pitted and pocked and jolting? I’m close to my three, but after all, it had been a while since I was the boss of them.

I didn’t have to wonder long; prom was two weeks after I returned. In case your children are still young enough for you not to know this, Prom Season inevitably will push boundaries.

My boundary push came by way of an after-party invitation for my 17-year-old son: a co-ed all-nighter with the guys sleeping in tents outside, and the girls sleeping in an upstairs playroom.

Right, I thought. Visions of American Pie, Animal House, American Graffiti – and any other party movie I’ve ever heard of or seen – all rolled into one night.

All this, projected onto a group of kids who have never even come close to my Imagination Gone Wild.


• to be cast in the position of Bad Guy.
• that someone else’s choice was creating a wedge between me and my son.
• that these parents were forcing all the other parents to make a choice none of us wanted to make.

Our children have always been allowed to challenge our decisions, as long as they did so respectfully. If their appeal was compelling enough, we’d consider changing our minds. If a sorry attitude accompanied it, they were out of luck; and never did we care what “everyone else” was allowed to do.

This was different, though; it felt like disaster waiting to happen.

Imagination Gone Wild paints a raunchy, bleak picture. It only thinks the worst…even when there’s no evidence to do so.

Teen drivers have freedom, and we stress great responsibility comes with that privilege. I’m sure they roll their eyes when I declare that “a car is a loaded weapon in the hands of a teenager,” but we’ve seen tragedy; they know the truth of my hyperbole.

Because we can’t tag along everywhere they go, we often remind them that “If you put yourself in a situation where something can happen, something eventually, inevitably, will happen.”

• Speeding ~ a ticket – or worse, an accident
• Parties where alcohol or drugs are present ~ temptation to experiment
• Alone/isolated with a boyfriend or girlfriend ~ physical boundaries crossed


I saw the after-party as a potential “something happening” situation. Because my son respectfully persisted, however, I left the window cracked open for further consideration. My discussions took place with:

  • Other parents who knew the party host: EVERY one of them vouched for their reputation.  Even the mom I KNEW would say no granted permission!  (grumble grumble)
  • My 19-year-old daughter: the girl who has lived out her faith consistently as a teen. Two years out of high school, she knew the kids who were invited. “Mom, let him go. These are the kids you want him to hang out with.” (Et tu, Brute?)
  • My husband, still working abroad: “I’d let him go, but it’s up to you since you’re the one there.” (What?! Are you kidding me??)
  • God: I prayed for heaps of wisdom.
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Only my sister and one lone friend advised against it. The tide was in favor of permission. I was clearly outnumbered.


On Prom Night, I still hadn’t given my son a definitive answer. He remained hopeful. I was still mad, likely at myself for not giving a definitive answer and sticking with it.

It was only after we met up with a group of his friends and their parents to take pictures, that I finally did what I should have from the beginning: Together with another mom, we called the host parents and asked if we could stop by.

I guess because I was angry, judgmental, and unwilling to extend the benefit of the doubt, I couldn’t make myself do this beforehand.

A warm welcome greeted us, making it easy to admit my concerns. The host parents offered a tour of their home, showing us where the kids would be, and shared their plans for the night. Another couple or two planned to chaperone as well.


not a single parent called for more information or to express concern. They were surprised and – I could tell – disappointed that more parents had not raised questions.

They explained their reasons for hosting an after-party:

By law, teens are not allowed to drive after midnight. They wanted to provide a safe, fun venue for a post-prom event. Rather than asking parents to plan for a VERY late night pick-up, they were willing to open their home to the students, provide soft drinks, snacks and activities – nothing structured, but plenty to do.

These were involved, aware parents who planned this party with great intention.

I messaged my son and told him he could go. For the hundredth time, he gave his assurance he wouldn’t disappoint me, that I could trust this group.  My son returned the next day gushing thanks for me letting him go and telling me how cool his friends’ parents were; that they stayed up all night with them (no one ended up sleeping) and how they cooked a huge breakfast around 5 am.


I finally put my finger on my indecisiveness when it occurred to me that if WE were hosting a post-prom party, WE could be trusted to supervise the kids in a way parents wouldn’t have to worry. What arrogance to think no one else could do the same.

Parenting teens is complicated. If you treat every decision as black and white, you’re going to drive a wedge in your relationship with your children.

Yes, there will be times you’re going to be the Bad Guy, but there might be a time when you change your mind on a decision you thought originally carved in stone.

I’m learning that every once in a while, that’s perfectly fine.

Robin Dance
Married over half her life to her college sweetheart, Robin's guilty pleasure is Reddi Wip from the can. Mom to three, she's as Southern as sugar-shocked tea. Follow her on Twitter. Her beautiful new is a must-see.

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