- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 1, 2005

I have received a good number of inquiries of late concerning two subjects of particular interest to parents of teens.

“What do you think about coed sleepovers, John?”

As any regular reader of this column would anticipate, I do not approve of coed sleepovers under any circumstances. And yes, I am aware that “coed sleepover” and “sex party” are not necessarily synonymous, but these events definitely present teens with a certain amount of temptation along with a certain amount of opportunity, and the combination is potentially volatile. Responsible parents do not put their children into risk situations of this sort, period.

Other experts disagree. They make a case for judging each coed sleepover on its own merits. Heretofore responsible and trustworthy teens should be allowed the privilege, they say. I conclude that through some miraculous process, these pundits skipped their own adolescences. Only that would explain their naivete.

The fact is, otherwise responsible and trustworthy teens have been known to seize opportunities to have sex. Believe it or not, even some straight-A students, student council presidents and hall monitors have had sex — and even become pregnant. My point is that neither lack of intent nor lack of precedent guarantees a safe outcome for a teen participating in a coed sleepover.

A 2002 Teen People magazine survey found that of close to 1,000 teens who had participated in coed sleepovers, 83 percent had “fooled around” at a sleepover or knew someone who had.

Granted, that doesn’t mean 83 percent of teens fool around at coed sleepovers, but an awful lot of them do — let’s say half. Do 50 percent of teens who go to coed sleepovers intend to fool around? I doubt it, but teens being teens, some 50 percent take advantage of the opportunity to do so.

“Should I buy a car for my 16-year-old?”

In the hands of a teenager, a car is a potential weapon of mass destruction. The only teens who should be allowed to put the lives of others at risk are those who have demonstrated a consistent sense of pro-social responsibility.

This eliminates teens who are habitually defiant toward authority, do not think adults have a right to limit their freedoms, do not respect adult rules (and therefore adults), do not take their academic responsibilities seriously, or have already engaged in anti-social behavior as represented, for example, by the illicit imbibing of alcoholic beverages. If any one of these examples is true of your teen, I recommend that before giving further consideration to helping him acquire a car, you require him to demonstrate, for a period of not less than one year, that he has realized the error of his ways.

America’s highways and byways would be far safer places if parents would adopt that most sensible policy. Plus, we’d be breathing cleaner air.

To those parents who complain they would be inconvenienced if they did not buy cars, no strings attached, for their 16-year-olds, I say, “C’mon — you drove them around for 16 years — what’s the big deal if you have to drive them around for two or three more?”

Let’s assume for the moment, however, that your teen qualifies, at age 16, for a car. I recommend that before making this important purchase, survey the teacher parking lot at your child’s school. Note the worst car in the lot and tell your teen you do not believe a child should be driving a better car than any of the teachers drive.

Needless to say, I believe, and I have lots of anecdotal evidence to support the belief, teenagers who have to get jobs and help pay for their cars as well as their car insurance will take much better care of their cars and the responsibility than teenagers whose parents simply give them cars, no strings attached.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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