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Health & Parenting

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Teen Minds: What Are They Thinking?

Scene 3: A boy wants to go on an overnight bike trip with some friends. The parent is reluctant to grant approval.

What the parent may be thinking: Are there any adults going along? Who are these people? What will they be doing? What if someone gets hurt?

What the teen may be thinking: These are my friends. We know what we're doing. I'm not a baby. Don't they trust me?

Teenagers are on the cusp of adulthood, and they're often torn between wanting to be treated like an adult and not wanting to take on the responsibility that entails. Here the parents' response should be, "It's not that I don't trust you, I just want to make sure that a responsible person will be along in case there's an emergency."

Elkind said that when his son, then 16 or so, wanted to take a bike trip from Massachusetts into New Hampshire, his father first called the organizer to gauge whether he was up to the challenge, found him to be responsible and willing to describe in detail what they intended to do and how they planned to keep in touch. "I let them do it, and they had a great time," he says.

But if the trip is just going to be "a bunch of kids sleeping over with no adult supervision, particularly today I think I'd be hesitant to allow that," Elkind says.

And if, after the parent refuses to grant permission, the kid comes back with something like "What is this, a prison camp?" The parent might say, "Yes, if you need to look at it that way. You'll be free in a few years, but right now you have to live in this house and under these rules."

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