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The Parent Trap
Lucas Mann
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It’s 1 a.m., and I’m walking home from playing pool. I’m not clear about when I was supposed to be home, because my parents have decided to “test the waters” and see if I’m responsible enough to call them and work out when I should come home.

Of course, I haven’t called. And the fact that I’ve received three voice mails from home in the past hour doesn’t bode well for me. I approach my house and come to a sickening realization: I can’t find my keys. I empty every cargo pocket I have and move on to my backpack.

At 1:10, I realize my keys are on the kitchen counter where I’d left them the night before. Terrified, I ring the doorbell. In a few moments, my bleary-eyed mother opens the door.

“Why didn’t you pick up the phone?” she asks.

“There was loud music, Mom.”

“Loud music, huh? Where were you?”

“At the pool place.”

“Drinking?”

“No.”

“Drugs?”

“No.”

“At least I don’t have to worry about you getting some girl pregnant.”

“Thanks, Mom.”

Just about every teen I know has dealt with a similar situation. Maybe they were smart enough to remember their keys, but there’s still a bleary-eyed parent hiding in the shadows by the doorway.

You’re probably late. You probably forgot to call. You’ve tickled their nose with a hint of something forbidden. People say hounds can smell better than anything. They’re wrong. Parents have the best sense of smell in the animal kingdom. Smart hunters would take their moms with them.

Some may read this and object. “My parents aren’t like that. My parents trust me.” No, they don’t. It’s not in a parent’s makeup to trust.

Maybe your parents trust you more than most parents, maybe they try to push their suspicions down, but they don’t really trust you. I’m sorry to be the one to say this, but there is no Santa Claus, puppies die, and parents don’t trust.


Everyone’s parents have their own way to interrogate their kids. The Barbara Walters have a constant barrage of questions: “Where were you? Why are you late? Who were you with? What did I hear in the background when I called you?”

Some parents just scream. We’ll call them the Scream Machines. They wake up your siblings, your pets, your neighbors, and nearby pigeon roosts.

“My dad yells so much that he forgets what he’s yelling about, and just goes to bed,” said my friend Allie, an experienced night owl.

Many kids, though, have quiet parents. They wait with sinister smiles, armed with mind games, waiting for slip-ups. I call them the Dr. Evils because they always have a diabolical plot.

They observe everything. One anonymous parent called her son (my friend) and heard loud music and voices in the background. He claimed to be at a movie. This sly parent had heard about underage dance parties, though, and had suspicions.

She sat at home, waiting, plotting, waiting, plotting. She remembered the stamps that they put on hands at clubs sometimes. I can only imagine the devious smile that crossed her face.

The poor son came home. She asked him how the movie was. He unwittingly dug his own grave, making up details about a movie they both knew he hadn’t seen. She inspected his hands. Sure enough, a bright green star adorned his left hand. Caught, green handed.

image by Gary Smith

Some Dr. Evils like to drag it out. I once stayed at a friend’s house (we’ll call him Bob) and we came home at a truly ungodly hour. It’s tricky. His parents don’t set a curfew for him, but still assume he’s out doing something illegal if he comes home late.

I was braced for quite a yelling, but the door opened to a bright smile and a “Hi, boys.” Amazed, we hurried off to bed. How naïve we were.

The next morning, Mary Poppins morphed into the Wicked Witch of the West. Clearly, she had prepared for this, studied through the night, dreamt of this moment. She grilled her son like a piece of steak. “So, were you in late last night because you were drinking?” she said, with a perfectly pleasant smile.

“No, Mom.”

“Then why did you smell like it?”

“Maybe you imagined it.”

“No, I’m pretty sure.”

“Fine. I met a few people who’d been drinking and they smelled strong. I guess it rubbed off.”

“Oh, so now you hang out with the kind of people who drink?”

“No, Mom…” Bob ran to his room, humiliated.

Bob’s mother settled back into her nice normal self and resumed breakfast with me and Bob’s younger brother.

Nice parents, who pretend to trust, might just be the worst of all. They’re the 007s. My own folks fit this category. “We understand, dear. We trust you,” they purr. “And you can tell us if you’re doing something wrong. We won’t be mad. We’ll talk about it. Just don’t lie.”

This past summer they took away my curfew, saying they trusted me to call and work out a reasonable time with them on the spot. They trust me to be where I say I am. They trust me not to drink or do drugs. They love me.

But wait! It’s a trap! They act so nice that I feel guilt. Lots of guilt. I feel terrible for even thinking about doing something wrong. There’s a battle raging between my conscience and my parents’ expectations, and I haven’t even done anything.


Of course, I’m not writing this with pure objectivity. When parents are suspicious, sometimes we give them reason. If we come home late, if we get caught lying about where we were, if we smell like beer—we have it coming.

Plus, if parents weren’t the way they were, many of us wouldn’t make it past 18 with our sanity and health intact. And, in turn, if teens didn’t act the way we do, parents would be… well, actually, they’d be a lot happier.

Still, it is frustrating. We’re frustrated when we get constantly questioned and our parents are frustrated to be up at midnight, wondering if we’re alive. Parents are sometimes too overprotective and teens are prone to take a foot if you give us an inch. And the standard teenage one-word response is enough to make parents suspicious, even if we’re not guilty.

I think that it’s important for both parents and teens to realize that we won’t see eye to eye. We teens should wait until our 20s, when we’re in weekly therapy and our parents have mellowed, before we try to understand them.

The main key is to not start a war now. Parents are going to be parents, no matter what. If you can smile about something instead of having a confrontation about it every weekend, I say go for it.

Humor’s also an option, and it’s helped me have a better relationship with my parents than anybody I know. When asked where I am, I say: “The crack house.”

“OK,” my dad answers. “Just make sure you’re not driving home.”

Truthfully, we teens have limited options when it comes to dealing with parents because of one annoying fact: they have tons of power and we don’t. Coming home drunk or breaking curfew just gives them fuel.

If you’re a kid who follows the rules, you always have the option of pointing out: “Hey, I could be a lot worse.” Even this will probably be ineffective, though. So the best thing to do is simply close your eyes and dream of that light at the end of the tunnel: turning 18.

One day, you’ll be free.

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(NYC-2002-12-21)



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