High school sophomore year presents unique challenges for children and parents

This column was originally published as part of my “From Where I Sit” series at in Towson Times.

He knew we were in a conference. But five minutes into our meeting, my new-fangled cell phone pierced our conversation with a call from my sixteen-year-old son.

“Oh, it’s Pete,” I said to his advisor as I searched for the silence button.

“I’ll call him back,” I murmured and resumed our conversation in the first conference of my son’s high school sophomore year.

But as soon as I figured out how to quiet the annoying ring, it blared again. Again, it was Peter.

This time, I turned the phone off, prompting it to sing its embarrassing goodbye song. Smiling at the teacher, I secretly hoped he didn’t think my inept phone skills reflected poorly on my parenting. Once more, I rejoined the discussion.

As we reviewed Pete’s progress, my mind kept wandering to the two calls.

Pete always texted me; he seldom called. With no school that day, I had allowed a rare mid-week sleepover that coincided with the release of a new video game. Seven friends had been “summoned for duty” to my basement, where gaming consoles, televisions and the Internet became a war zone complete with gunfire, explosions — and hysterical laughter.

I never knew a video game experience could be so social.

That morning, I had made pancakes for the boys. All was well when I left.

At the end of the conference, I thanked the adviser for his sage advice. Often as conscientious parents, we are so busy keeping “on track” that it is difficult to let our kids’ actions reveal their commitment and focus, he had commented.

I pondered that as I scooted out to the hallway to power on my phone.

Some of us over-achievers have brought that skill to our parenting styles, I realized. Ever eager to help, perhaps there is a time for us to let go a bit, and let our kids discover their version of our vision for their lives.

It’s a tricky age, though.

More than once, I’ve heard that the sophomore year is the toughest high school transition period. No longer rookies, these savvy sophomores are expected to know more, or at least know better, the ins and outs of high school life.

Yet, hormones rage unevenly for these kids, with stair-stepped heights and octave-differing voices trade-marking the group.

Unprecedented freedoms await with the magic of the driver’s license. Mobility and maturity crash head-on, launching parents into their own transitional period of consequential thinking and anticipatory parenting.

“You’re just making that up as you go along, Mom,” my now 22-year-old daughter would tell me when I crafted rules and boundaries for her in the thick of her hormonal teenage years.

And she was right. Who knows what limits we need to set until they are tested? One kid’s temptation is another kid’s last thought.

My phone’s beep interrupted my thoughts. I had a video message, a new feature I didn’t know I had.

“So, Mom,” Pete’s recorded voice narrated the fuzzy video. “Whenever you watch this,” he paused to pan the camera, “the ceiling is leaking.”

He zoomed in to show water pouring from the ceiling into two coolers.

“Need help,” he announced, matter-of-factly.

And he did — and still does.

The plumber met me at the house and quickly unclogged the upstairs toilet that had overflowed. The damage was minimal and easily remedied.

Let’s hope our parenting adventures in the years ahead can be so similarly summarized.

Pete’s teacher and advisor is Dr. Joel Coleman of St. Paul’s school in Brooklandwood, Maryland.