SmackDown: Would You Punish Your Teen if You Caught Him in the Act?
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.
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.