Posted by: Mark Nielsen | December 17, 2007

Wallet Found, Parental Control Lost

I found a high school sophomore’s wallet tonight on the street in front of my house. I went inside and used, plus her driver’s license, to check for her home phone number. Good thing for her, it was listed. So I called her house. A man answered. Probably dad, but maybe a brother. It was nearly 10pm, and she wasn’t home yet.

Long story short — man calls teen on cell, teen calls me for my exact address, and in 20 minutes or so she’s at my door. I give her the intact wallet, she asks no questions, offers sincere (but embarrassed) thanks, and goes on her way.

Now I’m usually not one to judge, but I gotta say this: 

-letting your kid stay out late on a Sunday night,
-not knowing where she is (the man on the phone was surprised to hear she’d been in Skokie… a good half-hour from their North Side address),
-giving her credit cards and a gas card (both of which she had), and
-in general trusting a sixteen-year-old to be as competent as an 18 or 21-year-old…

these are all questionable parenting choices in my book. I may be lenient on some things with my son when he’s that age, but not to this extent. Parental convenience is good, but child safety is better, especially in the age of identity theft.  (The kid kept her Social Security Card in the wallet, too!)

I certainly didn’t have any credit cards during high school. This was in the days before cell phones, as well. And I survived high school just fine. So the usual claim of giving kids these adult things for emergency purposes doesn’t hold much water with me. For here was a minor emergency that could have become a major one if I had decided to use the lost credit card instead of calling it in. A kid’s main focus may be to assert their independence at this age, but that doesn’t mean Mom and Dad should be pushovers and forget how to say “no”.

Coincidentally, earlier tonight I had been thinking about how my own wallet and mp3 player were stolen last spring. I had strong suspicions that the thief was a certain teenage employee of the business where I set my bag down, but nothing was ever proven. I then had to go through the headache of canceling cards, getting new i.d.’s, etc. So I know how bad it feels to lose track of one’s essentials.

Every teen’s going to do a few stupid things now and then. But that doesn’t mean we should make it easy for them. The high school where my wife teaches is rife with parents who have no clue what their bratty, drinky North Shore kids are up to. Either that or they enable their kids to grow up too fast, with everyone in denial, pretending these are near-adults in full control of their brains and bodies, when in fact they’re hormonally-challenged morons who are incapable of that level of maturity.

 And don’t try to argue: they are morons, but they’re OUR morons, and they’re sweet and funny, so we love ’em anyway, and we put up with their crap ’till they’re old enough to –hopefully– realize what morons they were at 13, and 16, and 18, and can finally say “Thank you for helping me get through.” (BTW, if you haven’t said that yet, go call your parents and do it right now. Go ‘head, I’ll wait…)

Yes, keeping a teen on a shorter leash is hard, but if you aren’t going to do the hard work of parenting and do it right, then don’t have kids. Especially if they’re going to turn out to be the kind of kid that steals my wallet and fanny-pack from a shoe-storage cubby at the indoor kiddie gym.


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