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Why Teens Flunk Planning 101

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I'm not sure about your tween's world, but in my daughter's, I am always one of the last to know what's going on in her schedule.

Family inside a car

Sarah Bowman: A tween's idea of a plan is very different from an adult's. When my kids were in seventh grade, I'd start looking at my phone at 3:00 on Friday afternoon. As soon as the school bell rang, there was an inevitable flurry of texts: "I'm going to hang with Nick," or "We're going to Ashley's for the night." A phone call to Nick's or Ashley's house usually led to the discovery that I was the first one to let those mothers know my kids were headed their way.

My favorite Friday afternoon "plan" involved six girls who were about to take a bus across town to see one boy. Right before they boarded, I got my daughter on the phone: Did he know they were coming? "Sort of," she said -- and lots of giggling followed. The boy's mother -- who (ironically) ran a middle school -- wasn't home, so this impromptu non-plan was going to result in six girls on a doorstep way on the other side of town. Not acceptable. I made them come home to my house and wait until all the parents were on board. (Talk about being unpopular!) My reward -- aside from the glares from my tween? I had to drive the girls across town, wait while they all hung out, then transport them back again. I heard every All Things Considered story three times that evening.

Parents are always the last to know what's brewing in their tween's schedule. It's not that keeping us on a need-to-know basis is intentional, or designed to put one over on us (at least, not for a few more years). The kids are just focused on their friends; the reality of a mother's daily life is the last thing on their minds. I could have taken an inflexible stance as a way to teach my girls a lesson, but instead I tried logic. On Wednesday, I would start nudging them to lock down a plan. (A noble effort, but waiting for consensus between eighth-grade girls turned out to be worse than waiting for Godot.)

I wish I could say that my gentle admonitions about planning ahead and using a telephone instead of a text, or my stern lectures that "parents have plans, too," improved the situation. But their "plans" only got more complicated as they got older, involving malls, potentially unsupervised parties and other people's cars. Occasionally I would get quite angry at the chaos of each Friday afternoon. But with time, I have actually grown sympathetic. As the stakes increase and college looms, "hanging out" starts to become a lost art. I became more willing to facilitate my daughter's wacky plans just to ensure that she have some fun with her girlfriends. And -- every mother's secret -- I loved to have her captive in my car. Maybe it's a blessing that the ability to plan is a late-developing skill. It meant more precious conversations in that safe, familiar place: the passenger seat of mom's car.

Now that my daughter is a junior in high school, I still can't say her planning skills are where I'd like them to be. The main difference is that she's driving herself. If anything will teach her to think ahead, it's going to be those dreadful Friday-afternoon traffic patterns.

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3 comments so far | Post a comment now
tennmom February 16, 2010, 1:52 PM

Ha! Great post!
My 12 year old’s school is great about sending e-mails, has an online site to let parents check grades and upcoming assignments/tests, I wish we had the same for letting us know what the little dears are planning socially. I often ask my girls if their friends’ parents are aware of the sleep-over invitation their friend has offered. I always check with the parent first, lol!

Fiona March 7, 2010, 1:48 PM

You show an admirable amount of flexibility. Not sure if I could ever show such patience in the same situation - I get annoyed when my friends are (substantially) late.

Nathan March 11, 2010, 8:27 PM

It’s funny how people view planning. I have always played things by ear, which drove my mother insane as she wanted things planned two weeks in advance. However things always worked out. Now that I am engaged my future wife has the same problem, she likes to have a plan, just not my plan which is “I’ll figure it out when I get there.” But once again, everything works out. (on a side note, I am fairly sure tween isn’t an actual word, and I am getting tired of reading it. Are people so lazy they can’t type out preteen?)

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