by Vicki Larson
My 15-year-old son called me at work the other day with a familiar message: “I’m going to Sam’s house, OK?”
“Why don’t you invite him over?” I say, struggling to keep the phone steady by trapping it between my ear and my shoulder as I continue to type on my computer.
“No one’s home. Sam can’t come over if there’s no one home.”
“Your brother’s home.”
“Mom, you’re wasting my hang time,” he says in a way that I’m sure involves an eye roll. “There’s no adult home.”
The name changes — sometimes it’s Sam, sometimes Mason, sometimes Noah — but the scenario is always the same. He’s going to someone’s house; they are not coming to ours.
It’s not like our house is some sort of opium den or crack house, but in the mind of some parents, it might as well be. If you’re a working single mom and your teens are alone after school, your house is the “unsupervised” house and few parents — if any — want their kid to hang there.
And I don’t really blame them. My kids were still young in the days when I was a married SAHM so if they went to a friend’s house or their friends came to ours, I knew there was always some adult around. But, still, I wasn’t always comfortable if my kids were with a friend being cared for by a baby-sitter or nanny; I’d seen many who were more interested in chatting with the other nannies at the park or talking on the phone than watching their charges.
Now, my house is the object of that discomfort. It is one of the many complications of working full time outside of the home when you have teens. They’re too old for baby-sitters and most after-school programs except sports. Even the “teen centers” seem to be too dorky to them once they hit puberty. So, they stay home alone — and most of us have read the studies that link latchkey kids to risky behaviors. They’re the ones more likely to try pot, smoke cigarettes, drink booze and have sex.
Other studies indicate that even though more and more parents are leaving their tweens and teens home alone, many haven’t talked about safety issues with them and fear that their kids might give out personal information over the phone, at the door or on the Internet, and wouldn’t know what to do in a weather emergency or earthquake. There isn’t necessarily any safety in numbers, either, especially if you have a house full of teen boys deep in a game of “Grand Theft Auto.”
And for every parent who’s hesitant to have his or her kid hang at an unsupervised house, there is at least one teen, if not dozens, who see it as a great opportunity to turn it into the party house. Despite how trustworthy your own child is, get a few teens together and a certain groupthink takes over, which can turn a bad idea — “Wanna see my dad’s hunting rifle?” “Does your mom have any beer?” — into a disaster really quickly. And then your house gets a reputation.
I am truly grateful to all the SAHMs and SAHDs who are happy to have my kids come to their homes and raid their fridge and pantry, but I feel guilty that it’s so lopsided. So I try to encourage my kids to invite their friends over on the weekends, when I’m home, enticing them with pizza and DVD rentals. Still, it’s a tough sell; I am told that our house is “boring.”
I’ll take that over “party” house any day.