Full disclosure: I was a rebellious teenager. I broke curfew frequently, yelled at my poor mom, and was generally surly and rude. (And oh, how I wish I could take it all back! I’ve apologized to my mom many times, but I would seriously love a time machine so I could go back and do my teen years all over again!) I was so sure, back then, that I was in control and knew what I was doing.
Boy, was I wrong.
The ol’ rock tumbler of life has a way of smoothing out those rough spots eventually, though. After a few years on my own, I learned quickly that I didn’t know everything and that maybe Mom and Dad were right about some things. By the time I was in my twenties, “some things” changed to “a lot of things,” and by the time I had my son, I was asking my mom, “How did you ever put up with me when I was a teenager?” (My mom’s answer? An emphatic, “Well, it wasn’t easy!”)
I was so rebellious, in fact, that in my twenties, parents in my hometown started coming up to me and telling me that I’d given them hope that their own kids would turn out OK. (My mom taught in the local public school. I’m guessing I was an example in many a parent-teacher conference.) It was humbling, but I have to say that it served me right.
So the question has become, do we tell our kids the truth about our rebellious years? Or varnish it a little?
My husband, the Catholic Schoolboy rebel, has one unequivocal response? “Lie.”
“Absolutely we should lie!” he says. “Otherwise, we won’t have a leg to stand on when Alex gets to high school and starts dealing with peer pressure.”
Friends of mine have come down on both sides of the fence. Some say, “No, I’m going to tell my kids the truth, but talk to them about making good choices at parties or when they’re with their friends.” And others are in the, “No-way-would-I-ever-tell-them-what-I-got-up-to-in-high-school!-That’s-just-asking-for-trouble!” camp.
As for me, I haven’t decided yet — and luckily, we have a few years before my son will start asking those difficult questions.
So I’m curious: what do you think parents should do in this situation? Come clean, or stretch the truth? And what have you told your kids?
About Elisabeth Wilkins
Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.