Are Teen Hang-outs An Endangered Species?

The title of this post is a question that has been on my mind since before I had kids, when I first moved to this suburb almost 19 years ago and was surprised at how early the “sidewalks rolled up” around here.  Whenever Andy and I were out for the evening and wanted a late night dinner or snack, we were hard-pressed to find any eating establishments open past 9 p.m.  And sometimes when we’d head to a little mom and pop restaurant in the neighborhood for an 8 o’clock dinner, by 8:15 we’d be the only patrons there, and even though their closing time was posted as 9, mom and pop would literally sit at a table near the kitchen, turn their chairs in our direction and stare at us until we finished, as if they were saying, ‘hurry up, we want to go home.’  It was weird, not to mention a little creepy (but their food was good, so we kept going back).  I thought of area teens.  ‘Where do they go?’ I wondered.

This question has come up again these past couple of weeks, as both my girls have been spending more and more time out of the house on weekend evenings, with friends.  During that time, Northpark Mall, arguably the nicest, classiest mall in the entire Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex and the mall of choice for many kids in our community, announced that from now on, anyone 17 and younger cannot be at the mall after 6 p.m. unless accompanied by a parent.  Minors are allowed to be there unaccompanied only if they are going to and from the mall movie theater, and they can only enter and exit through a specific door.  Though neither of my girls said they’ve seen teens causing trouble at the mall in the evening, my first thought was that this new rule is no big deal, but then I stepped back and looked at the reality of our bigger picture in North Texas and I didn’t like it at all. 

If kids can only go to movies and can’t hang out strolling at the mall afterwards, where else can they go? To a local restaurant, like we did when I was a teen? Well, even though that afore-mentioned mom, pop and their restaurant are long gone, and restaurant hours in our suburb have improved a bit, there are still quite a few “early closings”, and choices narrow down drastically after 10.  What about a bowling alley/laser tag center? Or a “jump town” (trampoline fun centers that are increasing in popularity)? These are great for younger teens, but the older teens have “been there, done that”. 

There is the “teen rave club” I read about in the local news…but you would NEVER want your teen to be there, a “girls gone wild” atmosphere where drugs and alcohol flow freely to minors… and, since we’re near a college with a large international population, there are also several hookah restaurant/lounges, places where patrons sit around tables with a communal water pipe in the center, filling their lungs with smoke from flavored tobacco, puffed through one of the water pipe’s many tentacles….A recent news story showed that while minors are admitted to hookah lounges, they aren’t supposed to be allowed to smoke, although it’s possible that some do.  But even if they don’t, who would want their teen to be in a SMOKING lounge inhaling second hand smoke anyway?? But the lounges stay open until 2 a.m., hours that have no doubt fueled their increasing popularity.

Should teens just gather at someone’s house? If that can be a house with adult supervision and safe, fun, legal things to do, great—but too often, that’s not the case.  Private homes seem to be the location of some of the worst trouble that kids find themselves in—think about kids recently busted for alcohol possession in our community, or the teenage son of major league outfielder Torji Hunter who recently made the news for a rape allegation.  Where were they when their alleged crimes occurred? At someone’s house, right here in North Texas.  At a house where either parents weren’t home, or parents were home and were encouraging the partying, or they were looking the other way and not staying on top of things.     

The bottom line is, teens, especially older teens, need a place to go at night on weekends, without Mom and Dad at their side.  A place that’s away from home.  A place where they can “see and be seen”.  Because the need to “hang out” with peers away from home is in our DNA; it’s part of the necessary transition from childhood to adulthood that has long been present in our history, from barn dances to soda shops to driving endlessly up and down certain streets to walking the malls.  Even in this age of technology-loving, socially-impaired couch potatoes, teens still like to gather.  They need to gather.  College should not be the first time they learn what it’s like to “go out” on their own. 

But the more we as a society restrict teens from feeling welcome at “decent” places, the more they will go to places that aren’t so decent, or safe.  

Outsmarted and Outfoxed: When Kids Call Your Bluff

Dana Macario at the mom blog “18 Years to Life” recently wrote an account of how, to teach her kids to pick up their toys, she and her husband gathered up all the toys strewn about, stuffed them into large trash bags, put them in a closet and told their kids that for each night they picked up the rest of their toys, they could earn back one of the “hostage” toys. Logic would dictate that the kids would want their toys back badly, and it would take so long to earn them back, that once earned back, the kids would think twice in the future about leaving them lying everywhere. Logic would say this was a great way to teach kids a lesson in being neat without having to nag, “Pick up your toys!!”  Only Dana’s kids chose not to earn their toys back. They’d keep leaving out toys, and got them taken away. When one night they did pick up their toys, her husband offered them the choice of a chocolate or a toy, and they both chose the chocolate! So now Dana is left with several bags of unused toys, a less cluttered home (bonus!!), kids who have shown they don’t need a lot of “stuff” to be happy (double bonus!), and an impending garage sale.  Definitely not the outcome she expected, but an interesting one nonetheless.

Dana’s story reminded of me of when Allison was around 10 or 11, Andy and I decided to try something similar in an attempt to get her to keep her room picked up. Too many clothes were lying all over the floor, so we bagged everything up that was on the floor and put it in the attic, and told her that as she kept her room picked up, she would earn back the clothes, one piece at a time.  Surely a clothes fanatic like her would care a lot about getting them back, since all that was left behind were a just a few items. But darned if she didn’t keep throwing those clothes on the floor, and wore the same pair of jeans for about a MONTH, no doubt to show that by golly, no one was going to “make” her do anything.  Seriously! I remember the jeans well, because they had a peacock embroidered on one leg…

I’m a longtime fan of the Love and Logic series of parenting books and CDs, and “logical” parenting in general, but any parent who tries to teach logical lessons needs to realize, if a successful outcome depends on a kid acting in a certain way, the lesson can backfire. But when it’s just the parent involved in a consequence, it works.  For example,  if a child disrespects a parent while a parent is driving them somewhere, the parent can do numerous logical things that are great consequences but that don’t depend on any predictable actions from the child–  the parent can pull over to the side of the road and wait a few minutes or longer until the child calms down;  the parent can turn the car around and drive home, telling the child he/she will not be going to that activity; the parent can say they are not providing transportation to the next scheduled activity, etc.   Nothing is required of the child in return– the parent is simply saying, through their actions, “If I’m not treated with respect while I’m doing such and such for you, then I’m just not going to do such and such.  I’m taking care of myself, I’m not allowing myself to be treated badly.”  Does the success of that “technique” depend on the kid not ever disrespecting the parent again? No.  You hope the child will learn from that incident to be respectful in the future, but if not, you just repeat your actions the next time the disrespect is shown, and are a success every time because you are showing your child that you are taking care of yourself.  And, you are teaching that actions have consequences. 

When kids’ actions are an “expected” part of the outcome, beware. One of Love and Logic’s well-worn “success” stories/teaching tools is how one of the book’s authors used to fight with his kids about bedtime, but everything worked out just peachy keen once he started telling them they could stay up as late as they wanted. The first night of their new-found freedom, they stayed up real late, and were so tired the next day at school, it was a beautiful lesson learned.  No more fighting over bedtime, and the very next night and every night from then on, the kids got to bed at earlier bedtimes, on their own, because they didn’t like the way they felt when they were tired the next day.  Well, la-dee-freakin’-da.  I seriously wonder if that really happened.  Both of my kids, who have very different personalities from each other, often stay up late on school nights, and are very tired the next day, but only once in awhile do they ever put two and two together, that if they got more sleep, they’d feel better the next day.  I quit fighting with them about bedtime long ago, but the “logical” outcome is only a sweet dream…

Kids, God bless their creative, independent souls, are unpredictable, which a lot of parenting authors probably don’t want us to believe.  Many kids will and do outsmart the “pat answers”, the books and TV therapists who think they know it all, and even outsmart us when we think we’ve come up with something original.  That doesn’t mean we can’t keep trying to teach our kids lessons, but when we do we need to have our eyes wide open, being honest with ourselves about our children and thinking about what to do “what if” a child’s actions don’t go as we’ve planned.  Are we really prepared to deal with Plan B?  If not, does our original plan need to change?

My friend Bob once tried to teach a logical lesson to his eldest son.  The son was scheduled to have a much-anticipated out of town sleepover with his younger brothers at Grandma’s but found out, just before he was to leave, that some friends were playing football in the park that evening, and had invited him to play. He badly wanted to go, as he didn’t often get invited to these gatherings and told his Dad that he didn’t want to go to Grandma’s.  His Dad was very disappointed in this but rather than saying flat out no, he told him, “Okay, if that’s what you want, then the entire sleepover has to be cancelled, because you need to be there to help out with your brothers, but you are going to be the one to break the news to Grandma, who is really looking forward to this, and you have to tell your brothers, who are also looking forward to this.”  Bob figured it would cause him to think twice about the consequences of his selfish intentions, and choose to go to Grandma’s.  He thought he knew his son pretty well. But, his son chose football, much to his Grandma’s, his brothers’ and his dad’s disappointment, not to mention his mom’s, who was looking forward to a kid-free weekend!

Some child development experts would say that Dana, Bob and I should be glad our kids “don’t fit the mold”, that they are unpredictable, independent thinkers who think outside the box.  These kinds of kids will be “the leaders of tomorrow” I once read, the entrepreneurs, the ones not afraid to do things differently. 

If that’s really the case, then I guess I’m gonna have two very successful kids in the future, because actions keep defying logic around here on a daily basis…

New Uncool Mother’s Day Gifts!

Just in time for Mother’s Day– new women’s tees at The Uncool Shop! I designed ’em and I think they’re much more chic than the previous ones– new fonts, several new V-necks in gray, black and white (or you can change them to make them whatever color you need) plus a new regular tee that has hearts instead of the “O’s” in the word, “Uncool Mom” (see below for snippets of a couple of the new designs).  The new regular tee is less than $12 and the new V-necks range from $16-19. And, until May 8th, you can get free shipping on any order over $30 with the code, MOTHERSDAY12. Click “The Uncool Shop” on the right-hand sidebar to order and to see more– there are still laptop cases, umbrellas and aprons in the shop, too! Paypal accepted!