The parent trap: no teen time
A year after Columbine, parents try harder to pierce emotional walls teens erect. Last in a series.
It's 9 a.m., and Naperville North's team of volunteer moms is pumping out a school mailing with the dexterity of a major league infield turning double plays. Peel off the address label, slap it on the envelope, fold the piece of paper, stuff. Repeat.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"We've gotten really good at this kind of stuff with all our experience over the years," laughs bubbly, green-clad Susan Tangen.
There must be machines for this nowadays, but they're expensive for a public high school, and then, when would they get a chance to get together and talk? And there's so much to talk about. Kids these days! Their clothes! That hair! Those grades!
It has always been tough to be a parent of a teenager. Your child is in turn sullen and sunny, evasive and responsible, loving and absent. They are close to leaving you forever, and they do not understand how heartbreaking that can be.
Now, to the many fears that keep parents awake, a word has been added: Columbine.
These moms say that the tragic shootings in Colorado, in a school very much like this one in western suburban Chicago, has reemphasized the need for adults to push through the emotional screens teenagers can erect and remain connected to their lives.
"It's gotten people thinking about the 'whys?' " says Isabella Dudreck, the frosted-blonde mother of two Naperville North students.
One thing this group wonders about is the way their children treat classmates. Take teasing. They didn't used to worry about it. They thought it was a phase - acceptable behavior. Now they don't.
Ever since Columbine, says Ms. Dudreck, she's been tougher with her teens when they disrespect other kids.
"When I hear mean stuff in the car, I'll whip around and say, 'Excuse me? What gives you the right to say that?' " she says. "They just don't realize that words can hurt - and that they can't take them back."
Since Columbine, they've become attentive to how closely teachers and other parents interact with students in their high school. They know that some parents start reorienting their lives away from their children when they become freshmen and first walk through North's doors.
"But high school is when they need us most," says Ms. Tangen.
She slaps a label on extra hard, for emphasis.
High income, high turnover
For many parents, Naperville, Ill., is a stop middle and upper managers make on the road to the corner office. Its northern edge is lined with new office towers, monuments to the Information Age economy. Its subdivisions are full of minimansions, crammed together on small lots.
It features both prosperity and the transience that prosperity can bring.
"When we first moved here, we lived in a house for seven years. And in that time,14 out of our 15 closest neighbors moved," says Marianne Boyajian, head of the Naperville North Home and School Association and mother of two current North students.
The town's high-achievement parents have high expectations for their kids and their kids' schools. They knock themselves out for their children, says Ms. Boyajian, and expect other parents to do likewise.
Many of the teens respond by doing well. Boyajian's boys both have grade point averages of around 3.97 - and that doesn't even put them in the top 10 percent of their North classes.
"There are kids there who are so bright they're scary," she says.
Not everyone agrees with this depiction of "Naperville Nice." Luz and Will Schuck call it "Pleasantville," after the annoyingly strait-laced town depicted in the movie of the same name. They claim it is cliquish and run by an old-boy network.
The academic success of Asian-heritage students has created some tensions at North, claim the Schucks, who head a 20-member Diversified Parents Association.
"There's no tolerance here for anyone or anything that's different," says Luz, who is of Mexican descent. "They don't even know enough to be ashamed of their attitudes."