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Guides for Adolescent Night Life: A Handful of Be’s

by Rodney Dale Swope

We are approaching final leg for our mission to love and launch our three beloveds into young adulthood. The finish line for this leg is when they, as I often say in jest, “leave the palace the first time.” Our final frontier is a son after launching to beautiful young women. I am proud to say, with God’s grace we have built some good people. I mean, not just because they are our flesh and blood, but because they are the kind of people you want to love, hang out with, and do life together with.

If you’ve raise kids or still in the throes of it you have had to think about the rules for venturing out into the world after dark or simply out of your line of sight. Do they have to get permission to go anywhere? Is there a curfew, and if so what time should it be? After all, they can’t just sit up under your wings if they are ever going to learn to fly.

Way back then, we took a parenting class. Funny how one of the most important and difficult jobs we get to do is generally founded upon on-job-training. No single course can equip you for parenthood, but they can help, as this one did. It helped us to understand the basic pedogeological objective was to teach our children to embrace their God give free will. They should learn to bear the weight of it and the responsibility that comes with it and make good decisions on their own. In other words, not to teach what and when to do, but to teach them how to decide. This means, we had to give them lots of practice in choosing while we watched and coached.

So, when our girls began asking, “can I go, here, there and everywhere?”, and then the ultimate question, “What time do I need to be home?”, as novice parents, simply repeating what we’d experienced with our parents, we decided to establish a curfew. Our executive committee talked in private and landed on a time. We decided to ask them first, “what time do you think you should be home?” Each time, the girls gave us a time that was 30 minutes earlier than we had decided. Wow! Did we think we were good parents on that day! We did not tell them that we had co-opted other parents to watch over, and triangular their whereabouts. It still takes a village. We were also confident that there was nothing new under the sun. There sophomoric attempts to trick us would prove futile. We had tried it all as teens, too. We also regularly prayed for our children aloud and in front of their friends that by God’s grace, they should be caught quickly whenever they did something wrong. Ready, aim, prepare for launch!

The curfew worked conditionally well with the girls. The challenge was that we had to keep renegotiating it at different ages and stages. If it was a good rule, then it should not need renegotiation, and regular exceptions. This, and some self-discovery, got me in in touch with the fact that I don’t really like rules anyway. Perhaps, that middle child monster, got it honest from me. Then, I found a quote that so agreed with my spirit.

Douglas Bader said,

“Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the obedience of fools.” a

Amen! I strive to be wise. We are charged with shepherding our children into wise adulthood using rules for guidance. I further internalized this principle with the understanding that children need rules for their safety, and the most successful adults are the ones who have learned to manage in the grey areas. Managing in the grey requires good principles. The worlds challenges are not always black and white. I am sure the girls learned critical thinking later and through other means. Yet, I am not sure how well this would work for my first born. Like many first-borns, she was very compliant. She feels safer when the rules are clear. The middle child entered the world intent to break every rule she could find. She was not rebellious, just determined flex and perfect her free will. Oddly she was the one who got in the least trouble.

So, when my son came to ask that fateful question, “what time is my curfew?”, we flipped the script on him. There will not be a curfew. It seems that curfew implies you can be anywhere of your choosing as long as you are home by curfew. We are taking a different approach, a principle based one. The fundamental principle is that we should always know where you are and we should expect that you know how to be safe, and responsible.

We laid out the 5 Be’s of Adolescent Night life. Day time venturing out was not much of an issue as he was typically with us or other responsible adults. We wanted to keep the guidance simple, easy to remember, and countable on one hand.

  1. Be Safe – danger can come in infinite forms. So always consider your personal safety wherever and whenever you go.
  2. Be where you are supposed to be – this begins with being where you told us you were going to be. We should never find out that you got in trouble at the mall when you were supposed to be at the movies.  Secondly, there are some places that a young man or woman of God, with a bright future should never be caught in, dead or alive.
  3. Be Responsible- do the right thing with concern and respect for yourself and others.
  4. Be a Leader- don’t follow the crowd down the wrong path.  When your friends want to do something dumb or dangerous, be the one to stop them.
  5. Be Quick to Call Us whenever 1-4 fail you. We will come get you without penalty.

He learned them by repetition and pop quizzes as he was leaving the house. It gave new meaning to our high fives. We also made it clear that failure to respect any one of the 5 Be’s would result in sanctions often restricting his freedom. Ready, aim, Launch!

These worked pretty well with my son. He did have some failures. There were sanctions and he learned. At least we had the opportunity to observe these failures and provide loving, critical interventions and constructive criticism. In a few weeks as he leaves for college, he will be free to come and go as he pleases. I suspect the 5 Be’s will guide his safe and responsible ventures into the world long after he leaves the palace the first time.

a Brickhill 1954, p. 44. Note: (also quoted as "...for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men.") In Reach for the Sky, this quote is attributed to Harry Day, the Royal Flying Corps First World