When you catch your teen in the act, it's mortifying for everyone. Illustration by Dori Hartley
I Wouldn't Freak Out, and I Wouldn't Ground My Kid for Life
by Brett Singer
One of my favorite comic book series is "What If
?" from Marvel. The stories imagine what it would be like if a particular moment in comicdom went a different way -- for example, what if Aunt May, rather than Peter Parker, was the one bitten
by a radioactive spider?
Parenting is a lot like a game of "What If?" -- only without the ability to look back. Or the super powers. Sure, we can try to predict our actions, but we don't really know what we will do when presented with a situation for the first time. Especially when that situation has to do with sex.
My sons are too young to be sexually active. They spend their free time writing and drawing comic strips
. So, even though it's speculation, would I punish them if I caught them "in the act?"
I believe my answer would be no.
You might ask, "Aren't there rules in your house?" Of course there are. No eating strawberries on the couch. No touching Daddy's comic books without permission. And, no, I don't plan on allowing my boys to turn their bedrooms into dens of Dionysian debauchery.
At the same time, however, I don't want to send a message that sex is something to be ashamed of. Because it isn't. Sexual activity with someone of an appropriate age is not the same as underage drinking or doing drugs, both of which are illegal and very dangerous. Yes, sex has its own dangers, but I fully expect my children to be aware of them before they actually engage in any "act" I might catch them in.
Since this is, for now, a game of "What If?," try to imagine this scenario:
I come home and hear recognizable noises from my son's bedroom. My first thought is that I would open the door. But would I really do that? Do I really need to see whatever it is that's going on in there? Nope. I don't want to see my kids in the "act" any more than I want them to see their parents "doing it."
Rather than bursting in and traumatizing everyone involved, I would knock loudly and ask what's going on. In my "What If?" scenario, there's a mad dash for clothing, followed by an invitation to open the door. My son says "we were just studying chemistry" or something equally cliché. I tell them I'm home and ask that they leave the door open once they are presentable.
This would accomplish the goal of embarrassing them by making it clear that I know exactly what was going on in there while avoiding a "HOLY CRAP! PUT YOUR CLOTHES ON!" moment.
When the teenager who isn't my child leaves, I would sit down with my son and talk to him about what happened. Ideally, we've had a couple of chats about this topic already, something more advanced than the birds and bees.
But, assuming an already specified rule has been broken -- "Thou shalt not be alone in a room with a girl under my roof until you are married" -- I still wouldn't hand down a punishment.
So "what if" I one day catch one of my sons in the act? It may take super emotional strength, but I won't freak out. Because, to paraphrase Peter Parker, as written by the great Stan Lee
, with great parental power there must also come great parental responsibility.
Punishment is Compassion, and I Am a Compassionate Dad
by Tom Henderson
My house. My rules.
If I caught my teenage son having sex, it would likely be taking place under my roof. That is completely unacceptable. As a middle-aged single father, I have one very strict rule: If I can't have sex in my house, nobody can. Especially not a kid.
There will be punishment.
My son sometimes thinks I lie awake at night coming up with new and diabolical ways to make his life miserable. Hee hee. He's right. This is where parenting ceases to be a chore and becomes really, really fun.
But, seriously, I do it out of love. The more creative the punishment, the more likely he'll truly learn the proper lesson. The fact that it's fun for me is just gravy.
So, how to punish a teenage boy for having sex?
When my grandfather caught my father smoking a cigarette, he made him smoke an entire pack. Obviously, that concept wouldn't work with sex.
However, Grandpa was on the right track. In his own evil old man way, he wanted to impress upon my father the logical consequences of his actions.
Modern parents often prefer the term "consequences" to "punishment." Not me. Nonetheless, I appreciate the concept. Culpae poenae par esto. Let the punishment fit the crime.
The problem is that punishments are not always that natural. Sometimes you have to give nature a little nudge.
Take this sex business. Were I to catch my son in the act, it would probably mean he had already committed the sin in my house. He woke me up. I would therefore wake him up in the middle of the night by banging on the wall and moaning in a profoundly disturbing manner. This would go on for at least a week.
Fun fact: Adolescents are easily and deeply embarrassed.
They're also hormonal. They make emotional decisions. They easily confuse feelings of sexual attraction for love. This can lead to all sorts of things they will regret sooner or later.
This is why punishment is ultimately compassion.
Still, no reason not to have some fun. I would also my make son do all the household chores for a month. I mean all of them. Why? Well, frankly, I could use a break. I am a single dad raising a child all by my lonesome. My son should know what it's like. Children -- planned or unplanned -- bring massive amounts of responsibility.
Of course, not all unplanned pregnancies result in a baby. A girl may choose to have an abortion. I believe that is her choice. However, I also believe it is a choice no girl or woman ever takes lightly.
I have many very liberal, very pro-choice female friends who are emotionally scarred from their decisions to have abortions when they were younger, so I would ask some of them to talk with him. He should know what he is potentially putting a young woman through.
Now, don't get all persnickety. I'd be sensitive. Being a recovering teenager myself, I'd listen sympathetically to all his reasons for having sex and let him share all his feelings and opinions. Then I'd punish him anyway.
Better me than the universe. Every action has an oppositive and equal reaction. That's a Newtonian truism that applies to apples falling from trees and teenagers falling in love. Or lust.
My son is a lot better off experiencing a reaction controlled and measured by me. I may take a slight bit of fiendish pleasure in coming up with creative punishments, but, ulimately, I'm a lot nicer than the universe.