I need some help finding a good balance of freedom and independence with my seventeen year-old son. We have a family cottage and he is asking for a weekend where he and his buddies can go up to the cottage on their own this summer. He is a pretty responsible kid and has given me no reason to not trust that he can handle this freedom but of course I am worrying about the trouble they could get into… mainly drinking as there would be no adult supervision. Is 17 too young to handle this type of responsibility and am I just asking for trouble?
You are wise to be concerned that a cottage with no adult supervision can lead to risky behaviours. Prohibiting your son from going would be a show of non-confidence in him, and that would hurt his self-concept and create distance in the relationship. Instead, you should let him know that you are happy he has good friends and enjoys cottaging as you do. Let him know that you want him to build up trust that he can manage the situations at the cottage successfully, so this is a practice run. A short amount of time, only a few friends, and more checking in from mom and dad. The idea is that success begets success and he can stay up for longer and with more people in the future – but you’re taking baby steps together.
Explain what your concerns are, and remind him of the family policies. Some examples might be: No alcohol, since you are a minor. Never swim alone. Call me when you get there and when you leave so I know when you are on the road. Turn off the hot water tank when you leave, and make sure the place is cleaned up as you found it. There may be details like the times and locations of the dump to drop off their weekend garbage etc..
Request the names and phone numbers of the friend’s parents so in an emergency you can contact everyone. Depending on the situation, I may call each parent to introduce myself and let them know I am happy to have the boys at the cottage and that you have already discussed the no alcohol and other safety rules just to be sure the other families are ok with the non-supervision situation, as some parents may not approve at this age.
A great way to get the conversation started can be found in this video.
Keep your approach positive and you son will be more likely to want to live up to your good opinion of him.