Steph figures out what’s right. Right?

My dad is very idealistic. I love that about him, and I try to emulate him often by imagining I can do big things — like he always said I could.

But the other day, talking to him about the challenges of raising teens, I had to cry foul.

“What’re you worried about?” he said through the phone, between puffs on his pipe. “Just tell them to do the right thing!”

The word rang in my ears like an alarm bell: the “right” thing. Yes. Tell them to do that thing that is right.

I was walking in the park and I stopped along the path to let out a huge belly laugh.

I proceeded to list off a variety of bad habits we both like to engage in, like eating whole sleeves of cookies at a time, which is clearly not right. Like
his smoking and mine.

I didn’t mean to get literal, but lately, as I watch my kids and my friends’ and neighbors’ kids grow into young adults, I am struck by how different they all are. Some are more risk-taking, some are more cautious. Some are more social, some are more independent. Some are more rebellious, some are more rule-following. But what is “right,” and how do we measure it?

The public school system has run amok trying to test and measure everything, to create a metric by which all kids are judged. It is wrongheaded, I’m afraid, though maybe it was originally set up — like my dads’ advice — with best intentions.

The problem is that every child who comes on to the Earth is a unique creature. By nature and by nurture they become what they are going to become, and while parenting them is a wild ride, I feel that it more about watching and listening than judging and telling.

Ugh. This is the hard part. I dab on lots and lots of lavender, I bathe in it, I have to. I like to give my kids a ton of independence, which means that I just have to take a deep breath as I watch my younger one head off to high school on his bike, braving the crazy New York City streets to navigate his way on two wheels. I put my fingers together in prayer as my older one takes commuter trains in and out of the city to visit friends in the suburbs.

I relax and let them do these things, not because these are “right” things, but because these are the things they have a mind to do, and I need them to be who they are.

The naysayers claim I am too permissive. They say there are very clear parameters of “acceptable” behavior. But I respectfully beg to differ. Some of my favorite people do and have done some crazy things. I’m taking a storytelling class, and the stories are crazy, including the ones about what people did in their youth.

Believe me, I want this not to be the case so very much. I want there to be a strict list of rules, and a straightjacket I could employ if these boys should fall out of line. Unfortunately (or fortunately), they are going to come to decisions about what is right for them, and that is going to be the “right” way. Even if it is wrong.

Read Fearless Parenting every other Thursday on

E-mail your thoughts, questions, and suggestions to If you want to join an upcoming Teen Forum, TBD, please let me know if you’re interested. We might not be able to tell them what’s “right,” but we can support one another and the teens in our community as they muddle through these important years.

More from Around New York