It's a Friday or a Saturday night, and your teen is getting ready for a night out. You casually but warily ask "so what's your plan for the night?" You've been down this road way too many times before, and can predict the unsatisfying answer. They casually and warily reply, also having gone down this road many times: "Ah, I think maybe, not really sure, but I dunno, maybe going over to X's house and then maybe walking into town to get ice cream, and well I'm not really sure, but yeah going to X's house, and gonna see what's up with everyone." This halting, vague recitation takes like five minutes to get out, and still you really have no idea what your teen will be doing except it definitely is not what you want them to be doing which is going to one house, staying there, locked in, with a bowl of popcorn and a movie, an alarm system and a GPS tracking system should they break out.
Your fears of packs of kids, roaming the streets, hanging in the woods or local parks, downing copious amounts of alcohol, smoking pot, and having hot, unprotected, hook-up sex, dance around in your head. And when you wake up from this horrific daydream, the battle begins. So you say with strident conviction: "Until I know specifically what your plan is, you are not leaving this house!" And so it goes....again. You put your evening plans on hold, afraid to leave the house without knowing the who,what and where of your teen's evening plans.
First let me say that most teens, even those who might actually end up staying at one house watching a movie with popcorn took four hours to get to that simple plan. Why? Because making decisions has become painfully difficult. This new brain of theirs is now allowing them to see all the possibilities of the night, and each of those possibilities has to be analyzed adnauseam. If we do this, then this, but what if we do this, and this happens, and what happens if X is there, and what should we wear if we go to X's and who else do you think will be there?, and so on and so on and so on. This kind of in-depth analysis takes many hours, and still at the end, they are not sure it was the right decision. I am sure you have experienced this yourself when you take your teen out to a restaurant with a huge menu. They are overwhelmed with the choices, and often rely on you to make their decision for them, "What do you think I should have?" As if this is the most important decision of their lives. Too bad they don't ask for your advice on their Saturday night plan.
Ok, so maybe you have heard this vague plan of theirs, but it does not make you happy. And the negotiations begin. First off, one way to help your teen along in the process is by saying late in the afternoon: Here is your "I Get It" moment: "Honey, I know you guys are trying to figure out a plan, and I get it takes awhile to do that, but here is our plan. We need to know by ( and say a time) so that we can plan our evening as well. We are happy to take you where you need to be, or we would be happy to have the kids here, we just need to know by.....Obviously if you have no plans for yourself that night, and you can be on-call then this is not a problem for you. But for those of you who do, it is important for your kids to know that there is a deadline for decision making, or you will make one for them. OK step 2 this is the hard one. When your kid comes to you with the vague plan, and/or you are uncomfortable with the walking around town thing, you can use the following system to help get some more information and accountability:
Question 1: What do you think I am worried about with you guys walking around town or going to the park? This is important for them to tell you what they think. If you just lecture about all the ills of traveling in packs, it will just put them on the defensive and perhaps set them up to lie. And trust me they know what worries you and it makes a difference when they say it out loud not when you do.
Question 2: Yes I am worried about those things, and I am also worried that XYZ could happen. What are you going to do to make me feel OK about these things? The ball is now in their court to come up with a plan to address these worries. Not your plan which they will probably forget, manipulate etc, but their plan that they have to take responsibility for. So for example, maybe they will say, I'll text you whenever we change locations. You can say that makes me feel OK about the where you are, but how about what you are doing. I'm worried that kids are going to be drinking or whatever. What are you going to do to make me feel OK about that? Keep going back to that question.
Question 3: What is the consequence going to be if you do not follow-through on your plan? This is important to make them come up with a consequence in advance of the night, that is their consequence. They will probably say something like, " well then I won't go out next weekend" Your job here is to restate : " Ok so if you don't stay in touch me with me in the way you said, and I suspect you have been drinking or doing drugs, then you won't go out next weekend. Is that right??"
Unless your kids have their licenses, I recommend that parents always pick up their own kids after an evening. This way you are in control of where and when, and I think it helps kids make better decisions about their safety. They are not going to get in your car, drunk or stoned, as they might in another parents car or definitely in a friends car.
This whole "just hanging around" plan is a really tough one I know. Worrying about your kids safety is overwhelming and it makes parents feel out of control of the situation. The bottom line is this, you are out of control of this situation. When your kid leaves the house they are on their own to make decisions. Your job is always to say" I'm excited for you that you have so many friends to hang with on the weekend,and I know how much you look forward to the weekend to hang with them. Here's the thing, I love you and I want to make sure that I can help you make decisions that will keep you safe." Just lecturing to your kids does not make them safe, but giving them an opportunity to come up with their own plans, by anticipating the kinds of situations you know they will encounter, and by making sure they are accountable to themselves and to you will help.