Family

Call it karma: how it feels when your teenager starts doing the stupid things you used to do

''Almost word for word, I heard myself uttering the same words Tania Bryan's dad had bellowed at us when he'd caught us sneaking out the window all those years ago.''

By Now to love staff writer
When I was 14 my friends and I were caught sneaking out the window in the middle of the night to meet some boys.
The rendezvous at the park had been arranged earlier that day. We were having a sleepover that night at Tania Bryan's and when we thought her parents were asleep we climbed out her bedroom window and ran stealthily to the meet-up point.
But Tania's dad Ron was onto us. He followed us down to the park and scared the bejesus out of us when he leapt out of the bushes and bellowed, "What the hell do you think you're doing."
Parents were called and the meet-up came to an end before it had even begun. I was grounded for a month.
Fast forward 30 years and, oh, how the tables have turned.
A few days ago, almost word for word, I heard myself uttering the exact same words Tania Bryan's dad had bellowed at us, to my 17-year-old daughter and her friends. I had caught them drinking at our neighbour's house while the neighbours were away. (We were looking after their place for them while they were on holiday.)
Yes, I'd said she and a couple of friends could sleep the night there and keep the cat company. But she'd snuck in a couple of extras and they'd brought alcohol.
When I popped over to check on them their faces literally dropped. The ever-so-subtle movement of my daughter's arm as she lowered her bottle to the floor to conceal it behind a bag was enough to tell me everything I needed to know.
"What the hell do you think you're doing," I bellowed. It was like an out-of-body experience.
"You channelled Ron", Tania laughed at me afterwards when I relayed the story back to her. More than 30 years on, she and I are still friends and, what we'd like to consider, responsible parents.
We can still remember being so surprised when we'd been caught all those years ago. How could Ron have known when we'd been so quiet and clever?
I see now why we didn't get away with it… Parents were once teenagers too.
Earlier in the evening, before my daughter and her friends had headed next door, they'd been acting very nervy. I'd picked up on it straight away - just as Ron Bryan would have sensed our anxiety that summer evening in 1985. We would have tried way too hard to be casual and chatty in the lead-up to bedtime, and his radar would have been on high alert.
What I learned from this experience is that catching teenagers doing something they shouldn't isn't fun. In fact, it's awful and I wonder if Ron Bryan felt as terrible as I did afterwards. I'll have to ask him.
I felt shocked and disappointed that I'd been lied to; and I felt upset that my daughter had so carelessly risked jeopardising our great relationship with our neighbours. But I also felt terrible that I'd balled out other people's kids. Two of my daughter's friends, in particular, had looked like they were about to cry and I felt mortified for them, despite what they'd done.
They are a bunch of nice kids, and making bad decisions comes with the territory with teens.
But as much as they only did what most teenagers would have done, I could only do what most parents would have done.
As well as telling them off, I tipped out their alcohol and sent them home for their parents to deal with them.
Teenagers push boundaries, parents must push back.
"If you don't build fences for your kids, you're an idiot," says psychologist Nigel Latta, who has written a host of Politically Incorrect Parenting books on how to raise children and teenagers.
"Make rules, set limits, and stick to them as hard as you can. It is in the nature of children to move forward until they come up against a fence. Some kids need only to know that the fence is there, others need to bang into it several times, but all of them need it."
Afterwards my daughter was distant and I inwardly struggled with this the most.
But a few days later she asked if we could talk and while I thought she was going to admonish me for being 'rude' to her friends, to my surprise she burst into tears and told me how sorry she was that she'd let me down. She was devastated that I was disappointed in her and worried that I no longer saw her in the same light.
"Darling, you shouldn't have done what you did," I told her. "But everyone makes mistakes. I don't think any less of you for it. I love you, I am still proud of you and I even still like your friends."
I'm under no illusion that something like this won't happen again but if and when it does, I know we will be alright.
My daughter knows right from wrong, she knows where the fences are and she values our relationship. The surprising thing was that out of this unpleasant scenario came a truly powerful moment that was both reassuring and beautiful.
Note: I have not used my byline because my daughter would be embarrassed.