- Parenthood is wildly different now than when I was a child.
- There are many things my parents let me do that I would never let my own kids do today – like spend a month in Europe on my own or light fireworks.
- Sure, wandering miles from home and staying home alone during middle school worked out for me and my brother in the 80s and 90s, but that was then.
- Here are eight things my parents let me do that I would never let my kids do.
Maybe the times have changed, or maybe I’m just not as laid back in my approach to parenting as my folks were. There are a lot of things my parents let me do that I would never allow my own kids to do.
My wife and I will encourage our kids (currently a four-year-old and an infant) to be freethinking and eager to explore the world, but that doesn’t mean they will be free to roam without supervision like I often did.
Sure, wandering miles from home during grade school, playing with fireworks, and road trips at age 16 worked out for my brother and me back in the 80s and 90s, but that was then.
Here are things my parents let me do that I’ll never allow my kids to do.
1. I spent a month in Europe at age 14 … without my parents
When I was 14, my buddy and I headed off to Europe for a month without parents. We were enrolled in a Spanish-language course that provided housing, meals, a daily schedule, and a nightly curfew. But for about four hours each afternoon and for entire weekend days, we were free to roam the lovely Spanish city of Salamanca without the least bit of supervision.
Since we were very mature eighth-grade graduates, we got into some trouble. For instance, I once got a mouthful of red wine vinegar after making a mistaken purchase at a grocery store. We also got chased out of a restaurant after accidentally exploding a glass ashtray using a butane lighter.
My kids aren’t going on any overseas odysseys without me until they’re at least a few years older than I was.
2. I drove alone starting the day I got my licence
I got my driver’s licence the day I turned 16, and that very day I was allowed to hop into our blue Toyota Previa and head out on the road alone. Granted, I drove all of two miles that first afternoon, but within a matter of weeks I was cruising around with impunity, even driving myself to school despite the fact that sophomores weren’t supposed to. (For the record, my parents didn’t know about that particular school policy.)
My kids can start driving themselves around alone after first driving around with my wife or me in the car for a year.
3. I played with fire … literally
In my younger years, fireworks were one of life’s greatest pleasures. We would even combine the contents of multiple cherry bombs, rockets, and roman candles into one horribly dangerous concoction.
Looking back from the vantage point of adulthood, it’s a miracle that I have all ten fingers and zero burn scars. It’s an absolute certainty that my kids aren’t going to play around with fireworks of any kind – especially not without me there to play, too.
4. I used technology without supervision
When I was a young kid, the internet wasn’t a thing. We got our first home computer when I was in early grade school, and we first had access to the World Wide Web when I was in middle school.
From the get-go, my brother and I knew more about using the internet than our parents, and we were free to surf that thing without any restrictions.
As most parents know today, unrestricted web access and youth are not a great combination, and when my two kids are old enough to access the internet on their own, my wife and I will put parental controls aplenty in place.
5. I stayed home alone
When I was a kid, it was entirely normal for my parents to leave my older brother and me at home alone for long stretches of time. While they didn’t leave us alone overnight until he was well into his teen years, we spent many days and evenings left to our own devices, and I was occasionally left entirely alone when I was nine or 10.
I’m not sure at what age I’ll finally feel comfortable leaving my son and daughter unattended, but I can tell you it won’t be that early. For the record,some states have lawssaying it’s perfectly fine to leave kids as young as eight or 10 home alone, and I always loved the freedom and appreciated the trust.
But sorry, kids, you’re not staying home without us parents any time soon.
6. I was allowed to follow the drinking age of any country we visited
When in Rome, do as the Romans do, right? Not if it means my kids drinking wine as teens while we tour Italy, Spain, or Cuba.
When I was a teenager, my family took several trips to Europe, and on many of those trips I was allowed to drink booze, sinceI was of legal age in the various countrieswe visited. The result was a strange feeling of unfairness when we got home again; why was it OK after a flight east but not after a flight west?
Look, when my kids are 18 and over, sure, a stein or two in a German beer hall or a pint in a British pub will be fine. But any younger than that? Enjoy the museums and the castles, kids, but no booze.
7. For years, I didn’t have a curfew
My parents never set a curfew for me, and for a while the arrangement worked out fine. Before I could drive, I was either at a friend’s house for the night and fully accounted for, or I was reliably home early enough in the evening since I could only range so far on foot or by bike.
Once I had wheels, I travelled far and wide around the greater DC area and often didn’t get home until well after 2 a.m. during the summer. Had they not been fast asleep, my folks would have been totally uncool with this, but I was always there in the morning, so no problem, right? Until one day when they happened to be awake when I got home at 3 a.m. From then on, they set a curfew, and I followed it.
My wife and I will have expectations in place for our children from the start, and they can earn more freedom and space over time.
8. I didn’t get a summer job until I was in college
My high school summers were a blast. I spent time in Chicago and LA at film production courses, hiked across northern Spain twice, tubed down rivers, cruised on highways, hung out with friends, and so much more.
But one thing I never did as a young man was get a real summer job, and I regret that looking back. (I did mow lawns for neighbours and did some volunteer work, but nothing too steady.)
I believe that working at a young age instills an ethic that can help you later in life, and it also puts disposable income into a teen’s pocket that he or she will value more for having earned it.
I won’t force my kids to get jobs or anything like that, but I will strongly encourage them to find work or committed, long-term volunteering opportunities.
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