If your teen was in trouble, would she call for help?
It was just another Saturday night in when the phone rang. Actually, I missed the call on my cell first, then it rang.
When a phone call starts a story, you know something big is about to go down. The truth is, I was half-expecting this call to come on some Saturday night someday. Just not tonight.
It was my 14-year-old. Something had to be wrong because otherwise, she would text. For teens, phone calls are rare.
She was at a party, a supervised party where the parents were home. I know because I had done my due diligence as the mother of a young teen. I had called the parent to check.
It’s not that I think my daughter would lie, but there could be a break in the chain of communication. She could have ‘heard’ that the host’s parent would be home. She could have asked the kid, who could have fudged the truth, or been mistaken. She could have misunderstood what I meant by supervised. All of these scenarios have played out in the past. A quick call to the mom confirmed that she did know about the party, she would be home, and my kid was invited.
Then she volunteered specifics. “There will be about 20 kids,” she told me. “No alcohol, no drugs. It’s a chips and pop type of thing. We’ll be here all night.”
I remember high school parties (now called “jams”). I was sneaky. The second my parents were on a plane to anywhere, I would pick up the phone and started inviting. Even back then, with no Internet, the word “party” had power. It spreads faster than a cold.
“Mom, my friend is sick.” My child’s voice was alarmed. “He’s really sick.”
A dad at the hockey rink once gave me the best advice for any parent of a teenager. He said: As early as possible, tell your kids that if they are ever scared or in trouble for any reason – no matter how stupid they or their friends have been – they must call you for help. Make them a promise. If they call for help, for them or for any of their friends, they get a free pass. You will not judge, you will not be mad, you will not punish. No matter where you are, you will get in the car and you will be proud that they had the smarts to call an adult.
I took his advice, and I passed it on – back when my kids swore they would never do stupid things, back when they believed I would blow my stack if they did. Again and again, I told them that in scary situations, their best, smartest move would always be to reach out for help. I promised if they did, they would get a free pass.
And this was my test.
It wasn’t hard to find the house in the dark. The 200-plus kids swarming the street parted to let my husband park.
The host father was in the house, having ordered everyone out once he realized the invite list had swelled on Facebook to ten times its original size, and that kids were showing up ready to puke.
His very apologetic wife was in the family room holding a towel for the boy falling asleep on the floor. My daughter had been trying to keep him awake by feeding bits of bread and whispering in his ear for an hour.
It took four of us to get him up and out the door and into the car. He was mumbling while my daughter promised over and over that everything would turn out fine, that we would take care of him. They were the same words I spoke when I rubbed my little girl’s back when she was small and sick with flu.
Soon, the boy’s mom rang our bell. It was the first time her son had touched alcohol. She was thankful his friend had called us. She was relieved her child was safe.
Going overboard with alcohol or drugs, ingesting more because it feels good and ending up sorry, is not new. It’s happened to all of us. Often, there are serious, even fatal, effects that can’t be undone, and kids need to be warned of those dangers.
This boy was was lucky. Waking up on a sunny Sunday, his pounding head will be all he needs to realize that alcohol and kids don’t mix.
But we parents have lessons to learn, too. We have to keep our eyes open so we can open our kids’ eyes to what’s around them. We have to keep our door open so our kids are never afraid to knock. We have to connect with each other and take care of all kids as if they are our own.
Finally, no matter how smart we know they are, we have to remember that kids make mistakes on their way to becoming adults, and just like all those glasses of spilled milk back when, there will be many. As parents, we need to stay calm and show them how to clean up their mess safely when it happens – because it will. That’s what growing up is all about.