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Home Alone?: Good Enough Moms


Q: My husband and I have been taking a weekly class on Friday nights. Our 15 year-old son has asked several times if he can have friends over while we are at our class. We trust our son and would like to demonstrate this trust by allowing him to have friends over, but we are having difficulty coming to an agreement about what is acceptable with regard to how many friends he has over and how we can make sure, since we're not there, that only that number come over. We are also unsure about contacting other parents. What should we do?

Grandma Betty: Why are you unsure about contacting other parents? Parents have a right to know if their kids, even at age 15 (or maybe especially at age 15!) are going to be at an unsupervised home. And, no matter how trustworthy your son is, you shouldn't leave it to the kids to tell the parents. That's your job.

Erin: I agree that you absolutely should talk to the other parents; they need to know if their children are at a house without supervision. And even good kids sometimes lie or withhold information, so don't leave it to the kids to tell. As for how many kids your son has over, you have the right to decide how many people are allowed to be at your house -- and whether or not girls can be invited (a whole other set of issues). I think it is reasonable to let your son have 2 friends over and, if that goes well, maybe let him have more over next time. If at any point you discover he has had more people over than agreed upon, he should lose this privilege. When I was in high school my parents went out of town and left me and my brother home alone (he was three years older and in college). I was told I could have three friends over, but I ended up inviting five. My parents were not at all happy when their flight was cancelled and they came home to find five friends in the kitchen! I lost privileges and regretted my decision. I realized after these friends came over (and even before my parents showed up unexpectedly) that it's a lot harder to make sure five friends obey the house rules compared to three friends! Make sure you stay on top of what your son is doing. More friends can mean more trouble and he will thank you in the end for setting some clear limits for him.

Marti: Well, Erin, I'd forgotten all about that episode from your teen years, but thanks for reminding me! I'm going to weigh in with a more conservative position here than you have, primarily because I think the potential for negative peer pressure goes up exponentially as more kids are added to an unsupervised group. I'd recommend having only one friend over at a time and being very clear with both kids (and the other kid's parents) what the house rules are. Hmmm, it might even be good to skip out of class early one night and come home unexpectedly. I thought Erin was very trustworthy when I left her and her brother at home, but look what happened!

Marti Erickson, Ph.D., is a developmental psychologist and director of the Harris Training Programs at the University of Minnesota. A well-known public speaker, writer, and media commentator, Marti also is the mother of two adult kids and three young grandchildren.

Erin Erickson Garner, Marti's daughter, is a writer and a specialist in maternal and child health. She currently is home with her two young children except for Sundays, when she and her mom co-host the Good Enough MomsTM radio show on WFMP-Radio, FM107.1 in the Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Betty Farrell, Marti's mom, lives in Houston, TX, and is known fondly as "Grandma Betty" to Erin and her kids.

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