A Teen Across America
There’s a lot of quiet excitement in this household as our eldest prepares to take a train alone across continent to stay for a week with older friends in Washington State. Basically we paid for 1/2 of the price of Daniel’s ticket and he paid the rest plus other expenses. We have issued a few standard safety warnings (beware friendly men in toilets, where to stash his ticket and ID, and the old New Yorker in me couldn’t resist offering the ‘bring $50 for the mugger’ advice) and will be delivering him to the train Friday night. He has been told to call when he gets to his friends’ apartment – and that’s it.
Some people might be horrified by this – what, no cell phone? No – no cell phone. A 16 year old boy away from his family for Thanksgiving? Yup. And staying with three 19 year olds 1,500 miles away. Yessiree.
I have never demanded my sons have a cell phone – I know what a comfort they can be to parents…. but I have always felt that if the child or teen is mature enough to be allowed to do – whatever it is – then he needs the full experience of both the joys and the pitfalls of that experience. I am reminded of a friend who let her 17 year old son cycle and ride a train a couple of hundred miles to our house alone – and who demanded he be available to her calls at all times. And then on the other hand I think of the stories a college friend told me of his father’s idea of an appropriate coming-of-age ceremony for him at age 18. The father was Korean, the son very American. Before he would agree to pay for college, the father shipped the son (who did not speak Korean) off to Korea with a one-way airplane ticket.. It took my friend about 6 months to figure out how to earn the money to return to CA and be judged by his father as worthy of being responsible enough to go to college and get what he needed from it. It’s a cliché but very true – my friend went to Korea a boy and came home a man.
And I know that my son will be very different when he returns home. He will have had to make many judgments about safety, about transportation, about timing. He will meet strangers and have to figure out what is safe and what is not. When he stays with his friends he will also have to make sound judgments about the behavior he might share with them…. And I am certain that whether he makes mistakes or not, that that now is for him to judge and for him to learn from.
Just as at 9 we would allow him to go out on our frozen lake armed with knives, fire and a hatchet, we know that he has gotten as much appropriate guidance as we can provide for him at this stage of life. We taught him how to use dangerous tools as a boy. We have taught him life lessons as a boy and as a teen. It is time now for him to go out and use some of that knowledge. And if he falls I know he is strong enough to be able to pick himself up, dust himself off and learn from the experience. And just as the trust we shared with him in an age appropriate manner when he was 9 strengthened him as a person, in the same way he will come home more sure of himself in who he is and feel affirmed in our trust in him as a responsible and sensible young man.