The question parents fear the most
There are some unanswerable questions that even the most experienced parent would rather not face. Add yours.

A recent poll of 2 500 British parents revealed that the top 3 questions asked by younger kids that parents can’t answer are ‘How is electricity made?’, ‘What are black holes?’ and ‘What is infinity?’

Compared with some of the questions teenagers ask, I think those are a breeze – you can look up the answers on the Internet, after all.

The teen question I dislike most is ‘But if you did it when you were my age, why can’t I do it now?’

‘Because the world has changed’ is the most accurate answer, but it’s not one teenagers like.

There are simply so many things that we did when we were young that teens can’t do now. We grew up in a golden age largely devoid of, for instance, the social dangers that now lurk, it seems, everywhere.

We hitch-hiked frequently, whether it was to a party in a neighbouring suburb or down to the Transkei for the Christmas holidays, and although tragedies did occasionally happen, none of them befell us.

Date-rape drugs were unknown when we were teens. It was simply unthinkable that a stranger in a bar might spike your drink and then sexually molest you while you were semi-conscious.

In fact, drugs per se weren’t as life-threatening as they are now, and our choices were much more limited. Our parents were most concerned that we might start smoking cigarettes (the punishments for this were often fierce), although those folks with a bit more nous about their teenagers realised that it was possible we could try dagga.

Although racier (or seedier) characters in our social groups might experiment with acid (and, in the late 1980s, cocaine), the wickedest we got was sharing a spliff at a party. And drugs were really hard to get hold of – for ordinary suburban kids, anyway.

The reality of crime

Violent crime, too, seemed less pervasive than it is now. Although muggings and theft, especially of cars, did happen, it was unusual to be held up at gunpoint, shot during a robbery, carjacked or attacked in your own home. My siblings and I grew up in a house in Johannesburg that didn’t have a front-door key – a plain impossibility today.

All this reflected in the way I raised my kids through their teens. They both had cellphones from a relatively early age (around 14), and they were under strict instructions to let me know where they were at all times. This is in stark contrast to my own teen years, when I could go off and spend a week with friends, with no contact at all with my parents, and the assumption was ‘no news is good news’.

While this irked my teens terribly a while ago, something that happened to my 18-year-old daughter recently underlined these ‘new’ perils. Her car, which at night is parked inside a property surrounded by a steel fence topped with razor wire, was broken into while she was sleeping (the robbers threw a blanket over the razor wire and got in that way). Although they stole only her student card (she’d left nothing else of value in the car, savvy girl), they did leave a ghastly calling card: a huge knife on her driver’s seat - the assumption is that they’d been disturbed and had to make a quick getaway, and had forgotten this weapon in the process.

My daughter was shaken by the incident – bur reacted in a fatalistic manner that reflects both our society at large and current life in South Africa. ‘Now it’s happened once, I won’t be so shocked when it happens again,’ she said.

A different world, indeed.

Which question from your child or teen makes you shudder?

Read more by Tracey Hawthorne

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