My Daughter Isn’t Going To Get Away With The Things I Did As A Teen

May 16, 2022

When I was little, about nine or 10 years old, I would meet up with my best friend Sara on the weekends to play at the local playground.

From the largest play structure, if I stood on tiptoe by the slide, I could see my house.

All I had to do was stand tall, look between the row of houses that bordered the playground, keep looking across the street and voila: my house.

Or at least the top left corner of the porch and the cedar tree that flanked it.

Jeni Marinucci thinks 'benign neglect parenting' is the best parenting of all. Do you agree?

How We Kept In Touch

Mom’s low tech '70s solution for keeping in touch with me was simple: I had to climb the structure once every half hour or so and check for a white dish cloth hanging in the cedar tree. If it was there, that meant it was time to come home for dinner.

It might seem silly but since I was bussed downtown to and from my elementary school all week long, this was a small freedom that I enjoyed.

By middle school, I was taking transit home from school with my friends.

My elementary school wasn't in a gentrified neighbourhood. There's a strip club across from it to this day. We used to sit in the trees in the playground and watch some of the teachers pop in, on their lunch.

I'm just painting a picture. The school wasn't in the best area, but the whole time I was commuting on my own at 13-ish, and ther was no way for my mother to know that I was OK until I walked through the door.

Getting Older

High school was an easy walk from home, but with teen spirit and older friends with a driver’s license, it was the prime time to act up.

My friends and I would skip class, get into someone’s car and drive really fast to their house to hang out for lunch.

Most days, there were more kids in one vehicle than a Shriner clown car.

An accident would likely have had a horrible outcome.

Even a standard police stop would have resulted in some pretty serious consequences.

And Mom didn’t have a clue.

After school and on weekends, I would ride my bike for hours, with no way for her to contact me. I only had a couple of quarters for a pay phone and my student ID card.

I would walk home from my boyfriend’s house (even though I often said I was going to be at my girlfriend’s house) in the pitch dark, without any of the technological armour that exists today.

It was a different time.

Today? No Way

None of this, by the way, would be OK with me as a mom now.

Why not, you ask? Because while at the time it felt so “racy” and “freeing," hindsight is 20/20 and I am amazed that I survived my teen years.

At the very least, I’m glad that social media and the Internet didn’t exist to capture my antics and follies. Even if my boyfriend had wanted to take pictures of me and share them with his friends, he would have needed a Polaroid camera.

"She can’t turn it off or she loses it and other privileges."

So fast forward to 2022 and the roles are indeed reversed: I am the parent of a 13-year-old girl and what a difference technology makes! There is no time where I don’t know where she is or I can’t reach her. She has my old iPhone so if she’s out riding her bike, I can call her or even find her using the “Find My Phone” feature.

She can’t turn it off or she loses it and other privileges, and if the battery dies, she has to text me via her friend’s phone. Too much? Some — in fact, I dare say many — would say yes.

Thinking about this made me wonder about other things that are different for her and other kids her age because of technology, and maybe not always in a good way. A friend reminded me that the simple delight of a flashlight under the covers to read late into the night has now been supplanted by cool USB lights, or even in some cases, e-readers!

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I recently asked Mom about my younger years, and she said she had to trust that I wouldn’t do anything dumb. Because what was the alternative?

Benign neglect, she called it.

She was raised that way, with the somewhat unusual situation of having had a working mother in the '50s in France, and didn’t see why my upbringing should be any different.

After all, kids need to have independence and learn to cope with things on their own in order to become useful, productive adults.

I thought a lot about whether the '70s and '80s version of benign neglect was indeed the way? I’m all for kids having independence but it need not be at the expense of their safety.

My mom didn’t have a choice about that, short of keeping me locked in the house.

"She will never get away with the things I did."

I think she would be appalled if she knew everything that I got up to as a teen (sorry, Mom!).

The difference for me is that I have a choice. That choice comes with some legitimate concerns, not the least of which are the bullies moving their cruel and often unwarranted acts to an online platform for the general entertainment of a much wider audience. There's also the vitriol that comes with an online mob, hellbent on extracting the pound of flesh they feel they deserve.

But all that considered, it's still my choice to make.

So we have helmets for biking, smoking laws for most spaces, seatbelts, airbags and all manner of rules and technology intended to keep people, including kids, safe. The digital tether I am keeping to my daughter is an extension of those, making her tween and teen years very different from mine.

She will never get away with the things I did (even though I survived them by sheer dumb luck) but she will have Spotify and Disney+.

I’m OK with that.

Article Author Chantal Saville
Chantal Saville

Read more from Chantal here.

Chantal Saville is, among other things, the chief wordsmith at Content Ghost. When not writing in her phantasmagorical voice, she is also a mother and a daughter. Usually in that order. Sometimes not.

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