Westmont Magazine The Truth About Teenagers
If you think you know where your kids are and what they’re doing, you could be wrong. That’s the premise of “Promise You Won’t Freak Out: A Teenager Tells Her Mother the Truth about Boys, Booze, Body Piercing and Other Touchy Topics (and Mom Responds).” Doris Fuller Sanger ’72 teamed with her children, Natalie and Greg Fuller, to write a book they hope will open parental eyes and loosen teenage lips.
Wise parents will heed the warning in this book: even teenagers known for their good choices (honor students, athletes and community service volunteers) can take wrong steps. If mom and dad remain clueless, the behavior can get out of control.
But there is also reassurance. “Parents need to hear that most teenagers turn out OK,” Doris says. “Their resistance can seem overwhelming, but don’t give up. Keep working with them.”
She speaks from experience. Doris became a “guerrilla mom” during Natalie’s middle-school years. By asking lots of questions, imposing consequences, meeting every friend and connecting with parents, she took evasive action against teenage misbehavior.
“I think it’s hard to believe our kids are involved in undesirable activities until after the first time they’ve been caught,” she writes (page 22). Natalie got good grades and seemingly obeyed all the rules. So it shocked Doris to discover her 15-year-old daughter had secretly driven out of state to attend a boy’s graduation party.
“I found myself in the middle of my kitchen on a rainy June morning, desperately trying to determine the whereabouts and condition of my daughter,” she recalls. “The fact that she eventually returned home unharmed was a relief beyond words but didn’t change the reality that the whole episode unfolded in part because I hadn’t been paying attention” (page 119).
“Promise You Won’t Freak Out” grew out of this incident. Doris started paying attention, doing research and comparing notes with other parents. The book deals with the issues she faced, such as sex, alcohol and drug use, shoplifting, lying, secrets and parties. Mother and daughter take turns giving their viewpoints, and older brother Greg occasionally provides a guy’s perspective.
Parents struggling with teenagers will read this book with gratitude and benefit from it. But moms and dads who don’t think they need it are the ones with the most to gain. If they’re smart, they’ll read it anyway and get off what Doris calls “Planet Denial.”
The book has hit a nerve. Interviewed by the New York Times and other major papers, Doris and Natalie appeared on the CBS Early Show in May. The book debuted on the Denver paperback bestseller list as No. 3.
A former Los Angeles Times reporter, Doris contributes to magazines and professional journals and has written several books, including “A Woman’s Guide to a Simpler Life.” She earned an M.F.A. in fiction at Vermont College and looks forward to publishing her first novel in 2005 or 2006. Natalie, who enrolls at the University of Puget Sound in August, took a break from the book tour for finals and her high school graduation. Greg finished Occidental College in three years and is now roaming the world in search of something to write about as he teaches English to foreign nationals.
“The experience of writing a book with my own children is so unique,” Doris says. “It was truly a labor of love.”