Your kids never tell you everything

OUR best friend’s daughter smokes.

This is not a problem for me. I’m never going to kiss her (she’s 14) and I don’t have to live in the same house.

But it’s a different story with our best friend. If she knew her daughter smoked she’d have a terminal fit of the vapours. She would also feel like a complete buffoon because, I quote: “It’s not like a mother and daughter relationship. It’s more like best friends. She tells me everything.”

And Elvis Presley lives in Rasmussen.

I’d like to tell her about her daughter’s secret fag packet, partly so I can watch her expire in a pool of deflated complacency, but also because there is a rule parents should never lose sight of, and she has – your kids never tell you everything.

Not until they’re 40, anyway, and even then they only admit to old stuff: “Oh, didn’t I tell you I took drugs for the last three years of school. It must have slipped my mind.”

I grow a little weary of parents who want desperately to be best friends with their children and downright impatient with those who want to be seen to be best friends.

Don’t they have a life? Don’t their kids have a life? Yes they do, of course. It’s just that their parents don’t know it.

I love the generation gap. It means I don’t have to listen to music manufactured by an electric whisk in a pantry, or say cool things like, ‘filth’, ‘evil’ and ‘awesome’, or wear clothes and haircuts people will stare at.

It was a great relief to me when the kids would respond to questions about where they were going and what they were doing by saying, “Nowhere, nothing.”

It meant I could say to the judge: “I never knew your honour. He’s a good boy really.”

There’s no sense in the parents going to prison, too.

Don’t get me wrong. I know parents have to set rules. There has to be some compensation for the early years of sleepless nights and nappy changing.

We erect fences to keep them in. That’s what parents do.

They climb over them or they dig them up and move them back a bit, or they simply knock them down. That’s what kids do.

But there’s a game plan to be followed. You can’t move the fences out or take them down on behalf of your children. If you do they’ll keep searching until they find them — no matter how far out you move them — and then they’ll climb over them, just to prove they can.

The trick is to absolutely forbid them to go near the fence on pain of something worse than death (taking their compact disc player away, perhaps), but to applaud very, very secretly when they do.

Take my word for it, you do not want a son or a daughter who does what you tell them. If you had one you’d be dialling frantically for a child psychiatrist.

Maybe our best friend’s daughter will continue to smoke for the rest of her life. Maybe she’ll want to kiss someone who’s a non-smoker and she’ll drop cigarettes overnight.

At least she’ll have the satisfaction of making her own mistakes and her own successes.

Eventually she’ll erect a set of fences of her own – and God help the kids who try climb over them.