Thankfully, I have eight or nine years before my young son asks that question. But in talking to parents of teens and preteens, I realize that such a request often triggers parental soul-searching.
The author of this week's Parenting Column (see Page 20) allowed her 12-year-old son to go to Woodstock '99 with a friend and his dad, then spent the weekend worrying about him.
Colleagues had a variety of responses when I asked them to read the column. Their comments represented a variety of child-rearing approaches, but they were unanimous on one thing: If it had been their child, he would have watched Woodstock '99 on cable television.
The author seems admirably trusting of her son, but she may strike some parents as nave or gullible for taking at face value his descriptions of what happened. His sunny reflections were partly at odds with news reports of rioting and drugs, a music festival that clearly got out of hand.
And yet, her son came away from the concert inspired to start his own band, which takes talent, imagination, and initiative. While he had seen concertgoers behaving at their worst (trashing tents, smoking pot, and stripping), he chose to recall moments when camaraderie and love of music prevailed.
A skeptical co-worker who read the column remarked, "Kids don't tell their parents half of what goes on."
Another colleague said she lets small things slide with her junior-high kids, preferring to concentrate on big issues. "I have to pick my battles," she says. "My kids think they're getting away with stuff, but I'm on to them, I just don't choose to make a big deal out of everything."
Are parents as clueless as pop culture and the media would have us believe? Do they know far less about kids' lives than they think?
One scary part about being a parent is never quite being sure what your children are up to. The natural tendency is to say no to everything in order to protect them. But then they become resentful and rebellious. The other extreme is to give them carte blanche. Then kids end up rudderless and craving limits.
Most parents strive for a middle ground. They straddle the fence between allowing their children to "follow their bliss" and issuing strict orders. They find ways to give them some rope without throwing them the whole line.
Naturally, it helps if kids have gradually been allowed to make decisions about moral and ethical behavior all along.
Maturity is not easy to judge, especially where our children are concerned.
The columnist raises some valuable questions that cut to the heart of child rearing. Whether or not other parents would agree with the mother's choice for her son, she appears to have a close bond with him that gave her confidence - despite some worried moments - that he would make the right choices.
And isn't that the best a parent could wish for?
Tell us what you would have done in this situation. We welcome readers' comments; we'll publish a selection in an upcoming Homefront. Respond by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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