I Know I Need to ‘Let Go’ of My Son and Allow Him to Keep His Secrets

My son and his friends are of the age where they are spending considerable time exploring new places, some of which involve trespassing, often at night. I have to restrain too much judgment about this for several reasons, but primarily because when I was his age, I did this with my friends, and we enjoyed it greatly.

We needed to discover the world around us without adult interference — it was a rite of passage.

teen boy looking back
I need to learn to wait for my son to share about his life…and be ready with my questions. (Twenty20 @Jess.xn)

My son is exploring new places in a way that includes trespassing

My son is traveling to remote, wooded areas making campfires, exploring the grounds of abandoned, state-owned hospitals, and walking across railroad trestles spanning wide, murky rivers. Even though my mind is bombarded with questions that I want to know answers to, I have learned to avoid asking for excessive details about what he does in these places — instead, I wait — or try to wait — for him to talk when he feels like sharing, and that method has generally seemed to work, or cause the least amount of conflict.

In the end, I mainly hope he does not get arrested, and I am happy when he arrives home safely at night’s end. I will admit that staying awake past midnight is increasingly becoming a challenge.

Ask a parent of any 18-year-old, and most will probably say that communicating is not always easy. Texting, meanwhile, has proven interestingly successful. I recently texted my son saying the railroad bridge he walked across in Middletown, Conn., was the same one featured in Billy Joel’s video for his song “The River of Dreams.” He knows that song, so I sent him the video link. He responded with a thumbs up. A thumbs up isn’t quite words, but, hey — a response!

Before he visited a long-closed state asylum, a property with more than 20 vacant buildings purported to be haunted, I questioned how he would access the grounds. He replied, “You just walk in.” Where will you park? “Across the street.” You sure about that?

He shot me a look. Enough questions. Fine. When I noticed that his shirt was dirty and torn in the back the next day, I chuckled that accessing the grounds must not have been as easy as he believed.

Once in a while my son volunteers information

I am glad that, at times, he volunteers some information. As a parent, you must recognize the delicate dance of this phenomenon called “keeping the lines of communication open.” Often, details emerge the next day or the day after at a moment that seems entirely random but convenient for him, like the millisecond before he goes to bed as he walks out of the bathroom after brushing his teeth when I am half asleep watching a Seinfeld rerun.

A few days after he visited the hospital property, he showed me some photos and videos from the trip on his phone. He knew that I found his trip interesting. He and his friends stepped into dark, cement-walled rooms that were once dormitories, as evidenced by rusted bed springs, and another room that appeared to be an infirmary or a dental exam room, where an extending arm that at one time featured a light was bracketed to the wall. We agreed that was a cool detail.

My own parents asked me nothing about the time I spent with my friends

Another reason I suppose I have reserved judgment about the mystery places my son has visited is because my parents asked me next to nothing about the many hours I spent driving around at night with my friends in the late 1980s. It is possible they could have asked, and I lied. I’m sure some of that is happening today. My son can’t possibly keep going to Chipotle to get food with his friends each weeknight at 9:30 p.m. — you can only eat so many quesadillas.

His adventures remind me of many things, mainly when my friends and I visited an allegedly haunted cemetery during my senior year of high school. I did not tell my parents any of it. We were just “out driving,” and my parents, likely reluctantly, accepted that.

Missing from my explanation: walking through the field of toppled gravestones with my BB gun, carrying an Ouija board that my friend Eric brought and insisted we use to contact the spiritual realm (even though we chickened out), and a description of what appeared to be a face in the window of a nearby building that was used as a summer camp. That episode was a formative experience for me, and my parents didn’t need to know about it, just as — it pains me a little to write this — my son’s experiences are for him today.

I envy my son’s life right now

I should come right out and say it: I am deeply envious of my son’s life right now — discovering new places, discovering the world, discovering himself — he’s about to start college, and the best years of his life await.

I sincerely hope he will keep me in the loop about some of his experiences and show me a photo now and then, and I will reluctantly wait until he’s ready to share details. But I will keep my questions ready.

More Great Reading:

My Son Is Leaving For College: Please Don’t Say “It’ll Be Fine”

David Polochanin, a freelance writer and teacher in Connecticut, has been published in The Boston Globe, Providence Journal, and Hartford Courant.

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