It’s Saturday. Sportscenter monopolizes the TV as Dad takes refuge on the couch. Soon, Mom returns with the youngsters from an early soccer game. The freshman eventually finds her way downstairs to find leftover pancakes. The weekend reprieve. Real life.
Talk turns to evening plans: parents have dinner plans, there’s a sitter for the youngsters, and the freshman ... well, it’s unclear. She’s going to Kelly’s, or Sarah’s, unless it’s Michelle’s; but Kelly and Sarah are fighting, so they’ll probably go to Nicole’s; she’s neutral. Confusion reigns. Names and households are familiar; there’s no mention of a party. This well-timed monologue is the first in a series of moves used clear the way for a night of nomadic partying.
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Mom and Dad hardly react; their freshman, while dramatic, is a good kid. She gets As, plays varsity sports, teachers love her, she’s mostly polite. They trust her, and aren’t super interested in details, assuming she makes curfew and maintains her resume. She has a cellphone, debit card and Uber. It’s a win-win: parents enjoy their night, youngsters get the babysitter, and the freshman is entertained with no activity required from parents. And so the freshman departs to begin her night of nomadic partying.
Nomads are simultaneously everywhere and nowhere. Social media, smartphones and youthful scheming allow teens to work with efficiency. They communicate hourly, while their parents don’t. This communication-heavy alliance helps to systematically outwit, outplay and outlast parental oversight. By laying the proper groundwork (equal parts convoluted and convincing), an illusion of the well-monitored night is solidified. Though the quick and obligatory parental call or text was executed, the fluid and subtle nature of their plans escape any tangible oversight from a busy or mildly distracted parent.
On-demand transit is key. The nomadic model utilizes the cover of transit to leverage freedom. These non-driving teens carve increments of unsupervised time into opportunities to inhale cans of light beer and shots of vodka (not in the Uber, but in the moments before and after). Soon-to-be freshman house hop on Saturday nights with booze-filled backpacks while traversing neighborhood greenbelts. Upon arrival, evidence is hidden as they ride their buzz until the lead nomad signals it’s time to refill, or the surprised host’s patience wears thin. Uber is beckoned, and they hone in on their next target.
Nomads are good kids. Teens often escape parent accountability because they are considered (and in many ways are) good kids. But good and safe are not the same. In groups, teens experience an exponential increase in risk-taking behaviors. This, paired with alcohol shrinks the good while elevating the reckless. Too often, the GPA is dominant consideration in determining social freedoms. More so, the they’re going to do it anyhow (they will) mentality clouds more assertive parenting strategies. But is this a healthy paradigm from which to parent? As such, the acceptability of excessive teenage partying continues to decrease, and now encroaches into the middle school years.
Nomads easily identify the absentee or susceptible parent. The sad truth is that a small minority of parents marginalize the efforts of more-responsible parents. Typically these parents seek to relive their own teen years through their children, or to increase the popularity of their child. They mistake the in-home party for acceptance or validation, as opposed to the pure manipulation it really is. Teens feed the ego of the susceptible parent with selfies and compliments in order to solidify access to a venue to party.
Party nomads appear quickly and consume relentlessly. A typical scenario follows this general template: teens seek and receive permission to have a few friends over; news goes viral; a full-blown party erupts. Parents try stop the party, teens won’t leave, authorities are called and disperses the crowd, teens quickly regroup via social media, group chats and Uber to their next landing pad.
A final thought. High school does not have to be the new college, but evermore, it is. Teens crave being edgy; when parents let them drink, alcohol no longer satisfies that adolescent need. So what will? Life in college is a time for adventure, mistakes, growth and new experiences; let’s not rob our teens of the chance to be teenagers.
DANIEL PATTERSON, a former assistant principal at Corona del Mar High School, recently launched Patterson Perspective Inc., a consulting company specializing in teenagers, education, college planning and parenting.