An Open Letter to the Parents of Teenagers

Last week, I found myself parked in the pick- up line of the local high school.  I’d gone to meet my daughter to give her some money for a baseball game.  Our schedules didn’t mesh exactly and I ended up waiting for her for several minutes.  I pulled up and out of the way of the parents picking up their children, put my car in park, and waited for my daughter.

While I sat there, I checked emails and Facebook and occasionally, looked around to see if my daughter was approaching.  This was when my jaw dropped to the floor boards.

Sitting a mere ten feet from me was a young girl who apparently, tried to sit on a bench, but missed.  Instead, she found herself seated upon the lap of a young man I can only assume was her boyfriend.

Their arms and legs were intertwined and from where I sat, it was nearly impossible to discern where one appendage began and another ended.

But wait.  It gets worse.

I couldn’t see this girls face.  Whyy, you ask?   It was because her face was firmly in the crook of her boyfriend’s neck so she could suck on it.

Now, this was no occasional kiss or nibble.  The behavior I witnessed was barely appropriate for any public setting, let alone the bench of the high school pick up line.

Let me be clear.  I am not a prude.  I have two children of my own, which means that if my math is correct, I’ve had sex at least twice in my life.  However, I will go so far as to tell you that I’ve never had sex on a bench in a public setting or displayed any such behavior like I was seeing at that moment. Even at that young age, I knew that if my parents were to see that display, I would be, at the very least, grounded and, at the worst, beaten to within an inch of my life. Of course, in my day, a “beating” didn’t have the same connotation it has now. Back then, a “beating” meant a swift kick in the pants or something of the like. And no, I didn’t threaten my parents with calling social services, nor did my neighbors call on my behalf. I knew I’d done something wrong and was being appropriately punished. I can assure you, the offending behavior was never done after that point.

As I sat in my car staring, mouth agape, at these two kids, I tried to figure out what bothered me so. I came to realize that what was so startling to me was that not a single person stopped to stare, point, or jeer at the couple.  Human nature dictates that we stop and stare at those things that are foreign and/or different to us.  The only person who seemed bothered by this behavior was me!  Apparently, I’m not accustomed to two people pawing at each other during high school dismissal time….yet a bunch of high-schoolers are.  And what does that say about today’s youth?

What is your reaction to this?  Would your reaction be any different if I told you that the child – yes, she is a child – was your daughter?  Or your son?

Because let me tell you something, if it were my daughter sitting on that bench, I would have gotten out of my car so fast it would have made her head spin.  Would I have embarrassed her?  Absolutely.  But, quite frankly, a little embarrassment when you’re doing something stupid, in my opinion, goes a long way.

Parents, take a stand.  We’ve all got to have those discussions. I know they’re awkward and uncomfortable – all the more reason to have them!  Tell your children in no uncertain terms that that sort of behavior is inappropriate in such a public setting!

Am I foolish enough to think it doesn’t happen?  Of course not.  I wasn’t born under a rock.  Kids are going to do things we don’t like.  They’re going to push their limits, and our buttons in the process. But here’s the issue:  It’s the audacity in which the action was performed that really got to me.  It was like the two kids sitting on the bench were just daring someone to come up to them and stop them.

And let me be abundantly clear on this:  It’s the setting of the behavior that’s inappropriate.  By this I mean that I don’t want to see anyone going at it like that on a public bench!

When did all sense of decorum leave us?  Have we gotten to the point that we are so afraid of confronting an issue like this one that we just ignore it? Or have we become a group of parents who feel they can’t punish our children unless we’ve specifically laid out the “bad” behavior and the corresponding punishment? Sorry, but there is no way humanly possible for us to think of and explain every type of bad behavior our children may explore. At some point, they’ve got to think on their own and develop an innate sense for what is right and wrong. This business of laying out every consequence and not punishing behavior that we haven’t expressly forbidden has gotten out of control. Come on, parents! Let’s teach our kids the basics and then let them figure it out as they go. And this means telling them in no uncertain terms that their choice was stupid and inapprpriate if the label fits. Stop being afraid of hurting your child’s feelings; stop wanting to be their friend.

You are their parent. It’s your job to raise a fully functioning adult. One that knows it’s not in their best interest to be sucking on their boyfriend’s neck in the middle of the high school pick up line. It’s called such because it’s where the parents pick up their kids – not where the kids get to “pick up” their next conquest. Zip up your dress, folks. It’s time to be parents again.

Oh! And if anyone knows whose child I saw that day on the park bench, call her parents.

Donna Small is tha author of three novels, Just Between Friends, A Ripple in the Water, and the forthcoming Through Rose Colored Glasses. Her books can be purchased here:!donna-small/c1ewn


Filed under life, musings, writing

5 responses to “An Open Letter to the Parents of Teenagers

  1. I believe the majority of babies born in this country are illegitimate. I’m only surprised the kids on the bench still had their clothes on.

  2. That’s horrific, and I don’t even have kids. Great post, though.

  3. Public benches, street corners, malls… We’ve turned holding hands into cause for horror, and deprived our children of decorum’s rules.

  4. Teens are, generally, oblivious and insensitive to others, especially when they’re indulging their romantic or sexual hormonal urges and/or believe they’re “in love.” Their ignoring of societal mores, displaying affection to a degree that is blatantly sexual in a public space, and not caring what others think are all typical attitudes and behaviors of teens in this culture and have been for decades; just the degree of blatant sexuality has changed (only a tiny bit, though, since I was in high school, and I’m 60).

    What, exactly, are the issues here? Are you worried about the girl’s “reputation”? That’s sexist. Are you concerned that they’ll be seen? They obviously don’t care. Are you angered at their flagrant disregard for what you (and many others consider to be “manners”)? That’s classist, culturally biased, age-inappropriate and useless to debate with them: they REALLY don’t care. Were they supposed to be doing something else? Clearly not; they’re just waiting for a ride. So, truly: what is the problem?

    Sure, maturity usually dictates additional modesty, conformity to societal norms, caring what others’ think, being concerned with “manners.” But, they’re NOT mature. And, if you “forbid” this or make a big deal of it, acting as horrified as you obviously feel, then you could cause them to feel ashamed of their sexuality (why would you do that?) or worried about being inappropriate (why should they?).

    So, if you want to inform teens of your perceptions of society’s norms so that they can make educated choices about their public behavior, fine. But, don’t be surprised if they give you a giant middle finger and continue exactly what they’re doing, only more defiantly and more often, just because they can and because it’s the individuational task of adolescence to push limits, defy norms, and find out what they believe in themselves.

    When they’re ready–when they decide they care–they’ll seek more privacy.

    Their behavior is not illegal and it’s not even immoral. You just didn’t like it. Toughen up.

    We have bigger fish to fry, so to speak, with our teens than being overly concerned about which behaviors they display in public and which in private.

    FYI: raised several teens, one of whom I birthed who is now 35. Worked with pre-adolescents, adolescents and young adults in educational and therapeutic settings for over 35 years. Have a master’s and doctorate in education.

    Thanks for posting. Best to you.


  5. Sally,
    Although I basically agree with your reply, I have a real problem with your first sentence: “Teens are, generally, oblivious and insensitive to others.” That’s as ridiculous as saying all senior citizens are crappy drivers and go to early-bird dinner specials. Please don’t make generalized statements about people. As a teacher, some of the finest people I know are teens.

    Best wishes,

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