“Sure we trust her, but 14-year-old boys can be pigs.”
My husband says this, primarily in jest, when we speak on the topic of our newly teenaged daughter getting a boyfriend, and whether it’s something we should attempt to curtail. Although we like the boy and he’s been nothing but polite and courteous around us, our daughter was barely 13 when we found out about his presence in her life. On the cusp of nearly still-12. Do nearly still-12 girls have boyfriends? Is this too young? Is this usual?
Don’t ask me. I wouldn’t know.
From grade seven to graduation, I attended an all-girls school. And while it may have prepped me for further education, it certainly didn’t prep me to parent teenagers.
Boys were a novelty we crossed paths with a couple of times a year at “coffee houses” (aka dances). We stood on our side of the gym; they stood on theirs. Occasionally a brave soul would dare cross the phantom line. Occasionally sweaty hands would hover and underdeveloped bodies would move in jerky, cheeks-blushed synchronicity, eyes connecting with anything but eyes.
At one point my best friend managed to find a boyfriend. I managed to date some of his friends, always briefly. For graduation, my mother had to hook me up.
Now each time I enter my children’s high school, I gawk. I’ve seen the antics of co-ed schools on TV and in movies, but witnessing them in person makes me as giddy as if I’m visiting the set. There are boys! There are girls laughing with boys! There are girls’ arms draped over boys’ shoulders! There are boys’ hands glued to girls’ waists! There are boys!
In the face of such otherworldliness, how am I expected to give solid parental advice?
When my son asks to attend yet another evening out, I reply: “I didn’t go to parties at your age.”
To which he replies: “You went to an all-girls school.”
True. If I could barely find a boy to dance with at a school-sanctioned event, I certainly wasn’t going to find a collection of them off-site.
“I wish I could be a fly on the wall,” I respond. In that way, I could see what teenage parties are like. My imagination conjures mountains of discarded booze bottles, hard drugs being passed in baggies, drunk drivers, my son barely escaping the mayhem with his life. My reason conjures innocent – although sometimes overly enthusiastic – gatherings of primarily good kids. While I’m sure the latter is true, I would love to see for myself.
At the same time, my son is selecting his courses for grade 12, wondering what he needs to take to get into the university program he desires. Wondering whether he can afford a spare.
“I rarely got to choose my courses; I was pretty much told what to take,” I say. And my tract was purely academic; I couldn’t pick Foods or Metals or Outdoor Education – and I never had the luxury of an elective.
I’m also unprepared for the clothing issue. Girls at my kids’ school have begun grumbling about the dress code, which forbids shoulders to be bared, or stomachs to peek out, or sweatshirts to display the questionable logo “Dope.” There are Facebook posts declaring: "Girls have a right to wear what makes them feel good! If it distracts a boy, it’s the boy’s problem!"
My daughter leaves in the morning in short shorts. “You won’t get in trouble?” her father and I ask. To which we get rolling eyes. “I’ve worn these before.”
While I had interesting (read: bizarre) selections of non-school clothes, at school I wore a uniform. A green plaid tunic, measured to just above the knees, over a white shirt (button-down or turtleneck, our choice), under a blazer or sweater (our choice), forest green bloomers covering our underwear and keeping us decent. Socks pulled up, not slouched. (We slouched them as soon as we left school property.) No makeup. Hair accessories to match the school colors.
Now my daughter wears on-the-cusp short shorts. Do I support the school dress code? Or stand up for individual rights? It’s an opinion I’ve never before had to formulate.
It wasn’t until college and university that I tumbled into self-rule. As much as the curriculum allowed, I selected my own courses. I dressed for myself. I learned how to interact with boys. I learned how to party. I crammed in freedom like a starving person at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Today, what guidance can I give my children? In teenagedom, I don’t know if bare shoulders distract from lessons or if electives are okay or if parties are drunk-fests or if 13-year-old girls should have boyfriends.
While creating reasonable boundaries, I guess I have to trust my kids; encourage them to use common sense and catch them if they need. I guess that’s all any parent can do – whether they’re products of all-girls schools or not.