In 1999, a PBS Frontline special called The Lost Children of Rockdale County told the story about a syphilis outbreak in a wealthy Atlanta suburb. Health officials were shocked to discover that most of those involved in the outbreak were teenagers, some as young as thirteen. Some of the young teens had literally dozens of sex partners and were engaging in every kind of risky sexual behavior, including regular group sex. For the most part the kids didn’t come from broken families, nor were they abused or homeless. The majority came from what could be viewed as typical suburban families. Parents had no idea what was happening and never thought their kids would engage in such behavior.
Although the Rockdale County story is unique in some circumstances, teens definitely have their own underworld, in which adults, particularly parents, are unwelcome. Their secret lives are driven by a desperate need to belong and are kept hidden because they involve everything parents would disapprove of. If you think, my kid would never…, then you need to know that any kid is capable of anything. The following is a list of things a majority of teens are doing and don’t want their parents to know about.
They hide friends you wouldn’t approve of.
Teens will find a way to spend time with the people they want to be with, especially if there is a romantic interest. If you don’t, or they think you won’t approve of someone they are hanging out with they will do it behind your back, either away from the home or on social media. They’ll lie to you about where they are going and who they will be with when they go out. Never expect the problem to be solved by simply putting your foot down. It is always deeper, involving multiple conversations and reinforcement.
They have social media accounts you don’t know about.
Whether it is Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, or some other social media platform you haven’t heard of, they will find one you aren’t monitoring. Social media poses a lot of dangers. You can do your best to monitor their online activity (and should), but there is a lot you will never be able to see. Make sure you are having as much open dialogue as possible. Keep up with the latest social media trends so you know what questions to ask. Currently, Snapchat is the most used; look for our article in several weeks discussing the trouble spots.
They are sexually active or trying to be.
If your teen has not been sexually active by graduation, they are in the minority. Kids have a fear that they are not maturing at the same rate as their peers. The result is internal pressure coupled with a curiosity to have sex at a young age without considering its implications. While some of the latest stats show a decrease in teens having sex, it is important to note that the numbers are still high, especially among those engaging in oral sex. While it’s good that the numbers are coming down, the fact is that most teens will engage in oral sex because they think it is without risk poses a major problem.
They sneak out.
If it is midnight on a Saturday and your teen is home don’t assume they are in for the night. Many teens will sneak out after their parents go to sleep to meet up with friends or significant others. Basements are a popular place for teens to meet up after parents have gone to bed. They will also tell you they are sleeping at a friend’s house and then head to an all-night party. When I would take teens to camp I would admit to the guys in my cabin that they could probably sneak out after I fell asleep without me knowing. But then I would ask them not to because it would hurt our relationship. Not because I wouldn’t like them anymore, but because they would know for themselves that they did something deceptive and willfully disrespectful to me. In fifteen years of camping with teens, I never had a problem with sneaking out after having that talk. I don’t know if that will work for you as a parent, but the more conversations you have the better.
They smoke pot (even the kids you think wouldn’t).
Alcohol remains the most prominent feature at parties, but regular pot smoking is no longer relegated to a certain type of kid. That may not surprise you but something that may is the routine use of Adderall and other prescription drugs to give them the energy to study during exam weeks. When thinking about and discussing teen drug use be sure to consider all kinds and motivations.
High schoolers today are under enormous pressure. Teens are looking for places where they can release their stress without being corrected or judged. [Tweet This] The problem is that many of those places involve recklessness and can have devastating emotional and physical consequences. They are looking for a parent who will hear them. Focusing your questions on how they feel and then showing empathy is your best chance at getting a glimpse of what is actually going on in their world.
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Do I do things that make it hard for you to share things with me?”