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Time for elite Palo Alto parents to take their heads out of the sand

Original post made by Joseph Adams, Palo Alto High School, on Mar 10, 2009

I am a concerned parent who has had a unique opportunity to view the hidden world of the barely teenage sons and daughters of elite Palo Alto parents. This is a world involving alcohol and drug use and abuse, sex and "group produced" pornography experienced at an age that grows younger by the year. Believe it, this is fact! It does not just happen in Ohio.

The parents who are busy with their careers and their necessary social activities are convinced that they do not have the time or the necessity (or the social right) to monitor their teenagers' activities. Older siblings and younger "adult" babysitters acting as surrogate parents look the other way as parties take place in multimillion dollar homes while the parents are out of town. When the police arrive to investigate the neighbors' complaints about the noise, the caretakers and the Police are understandably both interested in making minimal waves with all parties involved.

You may believe that this is nothing more than the 21st century version of what the current parents did as teenagers in the 60s. You may think that this is something that can is handled individually in a community of professors, surgeons and CEO parents like Palo Alto. I can assure you however that this is a chronic problem that will only become worse.

I have no interest in exposing any child or adult, and I have learned by experience that there is no recourse available through the Palo Alto Police or the Santa Clara County Courts. The driving factor for them is to "serve" the influential taxpayers and voters. I have no desire for vengeance or recourse. My sole wish is to inform unsuspecting and/or ignorant parents of the risk that they are creating for their children by not paying attention and not speaking to one another about their children’s evening activities. 14 and 15 year olds are still children, despite how they would like to be viewed and treated by their parents.

An article posted on the cvmoms blog site talks about the significance of cyber bullying and the need for Facebook to take social responsibility to prevent it. While I agree with the need for action to prevent this type of behavior, effective deterrents need to stem from the parents. The Internet, and sites like Facebook have both positive and negative side effects. As a parent you need to recognize that your teenage children socialize unattended through the Internet, and that this activity is a catalyst for organizing and promoting deviant behavior. When was the last time you actually viewed your teenager's Facebook page? Of course you do not do that because you want to maintain a trusting relationship with your child.

Making the decision to get involved in your child's life, both online and in the physical world is tough. It is about deciding to be a parent at the potential expense of your friendship with your teenager. Not getting involved can have costly, emotionally damaging, and even deadly consequences. No amount of wealth or Silicon Valley notoriety is worth that risk.

Comments (34)

Posted by SAHM
a resident of Greene Middle School
on Mar 10, 2009 at 1:04 pm

Yeah, I can't figure out why people have children when they have no interest in enjoying them, being around them, or being any part of their lives. This type of parenting leaves a hole in childrens' hearts than cannot be filled by anyone else. Looks like the teenagers mentioned above are engaged in wild behavior because it fills the void of being ignored by their parents. Or they are wild so they can flag the attention of their parents.

Just because children no longer need their parents' help physically (as in baby and toddler years) they still like their parents to be around and they need them mentally. They are still children (example, look in old middle school/high school yearbooks and see all the immature things written there).

Bullying and wild behavior occurs because the children are feeling ignored at home or the parents are too demanding and critical of their children so that the children feel they cannot please their parents enough. Certainly, bullying doesn't occur when the parents are kind and nurturing and respectful toward their children.

But this entire thread may be a waste of energy because the parents who need to read it are too busy with their careers or overvolunteering. Or if they read it, they deny everything ("we take luxury vacations, buy him all he wants"). NO! It's the everyday life that needs to be concentrated on. Material goods and luxury vacations cannot make up for lack of time and quality spent with children.

Posted by MidtownMom
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 10, 2009 at 2:26 pm

Are you a parent living in Palo Alto?

Posted by Joseph Adams
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 10, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Yes, why do you ask?

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 10, 2009 at 7:26 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

By the time kids are teens, your presence ad better be ingrained, because you can not be with them physically very much, however much you might want to be.

Posted by jack
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 11, 2009 at 11:20 am

Not meaning to make light of the situation, but wasn't it just a short time ago that there was a thread about parents being too demanding and overbearing? I think parenting is like driving: faster drivers than you are daredevils and slower drivers are slowpokes.

Not offering solutions here, neither, by the way. I suggest we keep such similar discussions frequent and meaningful, and hopefully those "in need" of such conversations take away whatever is applicable, in their own minds.

Posted by Michele
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 11, 2009 at 1:27 pm

Sorry, but our family's more pressing problems here are how to get a regular type kid through the Palo Alto High School system with her head held high, since all the schools cater to the Harvard bound. An average kid is made to feel stupid. Also, how to drive in such a crowded, insane area? Very difficult. And how to teach kids in Palo Alto to manage money. Everyone around them is loaded. It is hard to grow up here without feeling entitled.

Posted by Heartfulart
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 11, 2009 at 2:04 pm

I recently moved to Mountain View, but I can tell you from experience with my daughters a couple of years ago when we were living in Marin, these parties are common-place. I was shocked to hear that often parents enabled their kids to have these parties- supplying alcohol, pot, participating in the party (these don't just happen when parents are out of the house!), and obviously NOT caring what was going on. I'm so thankful that my daughters were able to call me to take them away from this kind of situation! One of them was sexually harassed in a very aggressive way by a fellow student who said "that's what girls should DO".

It was scary to hear the little that my daughters told me - I'm sure there were even worse things going on!

I have raised my daughters to be strong women, with feminist values and appreciating that women deserve to be treated with respect. I was in an American Eagle store with my daughter, where they were playing an extremely offensive music video with all the females in the role of hookers. I mentioned how awful this was to another mom, and she didn't GET it - she didn't see anything wrong with it! Okay, I grew up in the Bay Area in the 70's so I'm no prude, but I also grew up in the era where women were fighting for equality! What happened to THAT awareness?

Teens are subjected to violent and overtly sexual scenes in movies and on tv, and in video games all the time. I can't help but believe that these role models are affecting how they relate to the world and what is considered "normal" behaviour. All you have to do is turn on the tv any evening and you'll find several movies and shows whose premise is a woman being raped, attacked, or murdered. I wish women would protest in the way women are being portrayed as victims in the media. And WHY would any actress want to perpetuate that kind of image?

Posted by Joseph Adams
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 11, 2009 at 5:28 pm

Perhaps I was not clear enough about what actually can be done to at least minimize this type of activity.

Once the kids become about 12 it becomes very "un-cool" for parents to contact other parents to confirm that their kid is sleeping at another child's house. The kids whine and complain and eventually most parents back down. This facilitates the situation when they are a bit older whereby the kids just tell their parents that they are staying at friend X's house, and friend X tells his parents he is staying somewhere else. In the end, the kids go to an all night party and sleep there to avoid going home smelling like "burnt rope", having glassed-over red eyes, and having alcohol breath.

While it is still possible to be "duped" even when you are confirming your child's whereabouts with other parents, it is a lot harder. Again, this will not make you very popular with your child, but once you let the norm change from "Tell me where you will be and I will call the parents to make sure they know how to contact me in case of emergency," the paradigm shift to "Don't treat me like a baby anymore. I'm not sure where I will be tonight, but I'll let you know." is not far behind. Of course in the later case the "I'll let you know" happens only after your child and his or her friends have figured out the best alibi sometime the next morning.

Regardless of your relationship with your teenager, if you think your child is above deceiving you, you are 99% likely to be deceived. This applies even when (or maybe even more so when) you are having the "you have to be straight with me" discussion.

Unless you have regular contact with your child's friend's parents, you have to talk to other parents that are allegedly at home and have allegedly agreed to have your child sleep at their house.

Posted by Ada
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 11, 2009 at 11:45 pm

Can you be more specific about the risky activities? I want to be informed, but I find it very hard because my middle school son does not share much with me. I do not allow sleepovers, but I do not know where he hangs out for 2 hours after school every now and then. He tells me that he stayed after school in a library or was chatting with his friends on the school grounds, but I have no way of verifying it.

Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 12, 2009 at 12:13 am

I believe that one of the most dangerous things you can do with your kids is give them a daily time slot where they know they will be totally unsupervised. It's not just what they can do in two hours time, it's what they can set up from day to day, planning and arranging for future unsupervised times with their friends, taking yesterdays and last weeks experimentaions a step further today and another step tomorrow.

The place you do NOT want to get to is that time down the road where you are asking yourself "how it came to this". You are the parents, you are in control, use that control, take care of your kids.

Either that, or please keep your kids, however rich and entitled, away from mine. No, never mind that, *I* will do that job, I am watching my kids.

Posted by SAHM
a resident of Greene Middle School
on Mar 12, 2009 at 12:29 am


Very biased opinion.

"Regardless of your relationship with your teenager, if you think your child is above deceiving you, you are 99% likely to be deceived."

What kind of statement is that? Backed by research?

I know exactly who my son is with and where. And if he is going to a sleepover, I sure as heck talk to the parents to confirm. I cannot imagine NOT confirming. I want to be sure my son is okay at someone else's house.

Maybe it's the working/overly busy parents who are clued-out about their children's whereabouts.

Still, thanks for the info on your original post.

Posted by CaliforniaBear
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 12, 2009 at 11:24 am

I don't know where you all have been, or where you grew up, but this is standard fare in American high schools. Oversexed, overdrugged, overdrunk. I grew up in Cupertino and went to high school there 20 years ago and nothing the original poster described surprises me. There was way too much sex, objectification of women, alcohol, drugs, and parental ignorance if not encouragement of the same. I am a child of immigrants so I never "fit in" to the jock/partying crowd but I heard all about it and saw pictures that shocked me, as a conservative teetotaller.

It's all only a problem when (a) there's drunk driving and a kid gets hurt, and then the message is don't *drive* drunk or (b) someone gets pregnant, hurt, or embarrassingly caught.

We have a cultural problem in the country, not just Palo Alto or the Bay Area, and this crosses economic groups.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2009 at 12:12 pm

The problems do start with middle schoolers and the two hours after school that many of them spend hanging out with their friends. There are things you can do about it, but it will take some of your time.

If they are at the Drop in Mitchell Park, they have to sign in and and the staff know how much time they spend there. Check with them and see that they are there when the kids say they are there.

If they are hanging out at a library after school, start using that time slot as your time to go to the library too. You will see if they are there and if you are checking out your books, it will not appear uncool and you can say hi and leave without disturbing them. If they are hanging out at school playing basketball, once again you can go to school and check something out at the office, or the lost and found, or whatever and once again say hi to them and leave.

If they are going to friends' homes you can tell them that they must let you know whose house and you want to meet the parents. If the parents are like you, they will probably be pleased to meet you just as much as you meet them. All you need to do is introduce yourselves to them and if this is happening a lot, you can offer to buy the after school snacks occasionally and deliver them just to see them and say hi.

If on the other hand, they are not doing what they say they are doing and they know that you are likely to be out and about watching them, they are less likely to do things of which you disapprove.

There are some places they visit after school which are fine if they stay there just long enough to buy what they want and then move on, but check there and see that they are not hanging around outside with people you do not know or they are embarrassed to be found with. 7 11 is one of these places, and in the past there have been card players playing behind the store out of sight.

Other parents may have other good ideas, but the point is to find out who they are with and what they are doing. It is not showing lack of trust, it is being a visible parent.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 12, 2009 at 2:37 pm

I'm with CaliforniaBear. I had friends who were sexually active at 12, used drugs and drank at parties. Oral sex seems to be more common and homosexuality more openly dealt with, but those are the biggest difference. Oh, and wow is cable TV trashy.

I was unsupervised and had working parents, but I wasn't doing that stuff. I'd say more than anything it's because I had a good relationship with my working mother. And that started early--it meant she was interested in hearing about the ins and outs of my social life in elementary school. It meant sharing her less-than-perfect behavior in her youth. Kids open up, in my experience, if you show you want to understand instead of just telling them how to behave.

I've noticed that the habit of talking or not talking to a parent starts surprisingly early. I've known first graders who don't tell their parents what's really going on in school.

Fact is, you can't totally control your child's whereabouts and behavior. What you can do is teach them *how* and *why* to make good choices.

Posted by Ken
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2009 at 3:59 pm

I have to say , after reading all of this, I just wonder what happened to just being a parent and putting rules in place that you expect and demand are followed and if they aren't followed there are consequences to those actions?

I know that the teenage years are time to explore and grow, and it is natural to test the boundries etc and this is a normal part of growing up--- but this thread seems to indicate there are a group of helpless parents who just don't know how they can manage their relationships with their kids and don't want to be seen as "uncool" or like they are managing their lives for them.

If I want to check up on my sons behavior, I don't have to pretend I am going to the library to check out a book (as an example)... I am going there to be sure he is there when he says he is-- period.

If he doesn't like it, he doesn't go

I am the parent-- he is the child. Case closed. He may not like it, but that is the way it is until he is old enough to be on his own and make his own rules.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2009 at 4:47 pm


How old are your kids?

I didn't say "pretend" to take out a book, I said use this as the time to go and check out your own books. No pretence necessary.

I didn't say don't trust them, I said be visible.

One parent earlier in the thread asked for some help, I don't have any idea of their parenting skills.

I don't think there are many helpless parents around, but we can all do with a bit of help and advice. I gave mine, you give yours.

Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2009 at 4:54 pm

Your kids all smoke pot. Your kids drink. Dont blame any body else when it happens because you were to busy looking for excuses or pointing the finger.

Posted by joe
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 12, 2009 at 10:32 pm

Thanks for the thread above. It has been eye opening. I think that we have been fortunate so far as our middle schooler and he rarely has sleep overs. Also, my wife stays at home and returns to home immediately after school. In fact, I was surprised when I heard that many of his friends in middle school play GTA aka Grand Theft Auto, which is the violent video game involving killing, robbing, and raping. However, I now have a new perspective which will make us better prepared to anticipate.

Posted by Thank you
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2009 at 2:13 pm

what a breath of fresh air this article is. the Palo Alto parents are so hippied out and Liberal that they are stuck on this notion that if they "pay attention" that they are violating their childs privacy rights. I think it's just pure laziness which also falls into the Hippie Liberal Parent category. I would not allow my 12 year old to get a Facebook unless I was on her friends list & I look at it every single day. I actually made her remove something off her page that included comments from other peers that were using inappropriate language. I ask tons of questions and I check up on her when she's out with her friends. We talk about everything. She trusts me and I trust her. She understands why I am the way I am because I presented it to her with LOGIC (something else Liberal Hippies in general do not have) that if she had a child or a baby, wouldnt she want to do everything to protect them? I explain to her that it is not that I don't trust HER but that I want to have a hand in guiding her until she is at an age of experience and can guide on her own. Act like you care & they will respect you enough to make decent choices. Spend time with your kids, be a cool parent that takes interest in what they are doing, laugh at their jokes, be present. There is always a risk no matter how right you do things with your child. There is no guarantee but I have heard too many soft foot parents use the "I don't want to violate their privacy" excuse. THEY ARE CHILDREN!!!! THEY NEED YOU TO VIOLATE THEIR PRIVACY! THEY WANT YOU TO VIOLATE THEIR PRIVACY.

Posted by Ada
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2009 at 3:01 pm

Frankly, I do not believe kids do drugs and drink in middle school. There is always a way to verify that using the over-the-counter kits if your kid had any drugs in the last 90 days. I suggest parents quietly do that to get the peace of mind.

Posted by JBH
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 13, 2009 at 5:24 pm

Anyone have children in college that went through the PA school system?

This is what I know. Be home when your children get home from school. In fact, it is much more important to be there when they are teenagers. The home is not a democracy, it is a Kingdom, ruled by Mom and Dad. DO give kids unsupervised independence, but know where, when and who they are with. Talk to other parents and neighbors. Palo Alto is a small community where we know each other. Rooms, backpacks, Facebook, cellphone logs, pants pockets, cars, etc... are all fair game. After all, Mom and Dad own these things.
Don't be so ignorant to think that they won't try anything. Every child is different. I have three sons and a foster son. They all did things that were shocking and just plain stupid. Talk to them. I mean, talk to them about current events, movies, cultures, politics, community issues, etc....
So many parents that I've met in Palo Alto are so wrapped up in how the mistakes of their children will reflect on them, that they lose sight of what is important.
The MOST important job for a parent is to raise a young adult, who can think for themselves, and be a productive asset to society.

Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2009 at 5:56 pm

I cant imagine that I would ever go so far as to drug test my kids. If I was ever that far out of touch with my kids I would throw in the towel. Middle school kids probably dont experiment yet, I was mainly thinking of the high school level. But if you ever want to have any kind of relationship with your child do not do that. Who are you Anita Bryant.

Posted by arole
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 13, 2009 at 5:57 pm

Dear well-intentioned Joseph Adams. The denial of the parents to whom you are referring is so much greater than any information you are providing. Unless they are caught red-handed (& even then they were holding someone's else's drink or had no idea such things were going on, etc.)I hate to sound pessimistic, but other than being a real parent like Ken, there's little to be done. These parents don't want to know because then there's no problem to deal with.

Posted by jb
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 13, 2009 at 6:48 pm

Yes, they do try drugs and drink in middle school. Anyone with older sibs potentially has a source.

And if you can bring yourselves to do it, tell your kids that oral sex is a real source of mouth, larynx and esophageal cancers. The culprit is the human papilloma virus. Oh, yes IT IS SEX! Not all kids think oral sex counts as sex.

Posted by Julie
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2009 at 8:16 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Bob
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 13, 2009 at 10:27 pm

I believe that the above comments that make all students out to be pot smoking party goers. You are making the assumption that all students participate in said activities. No, most students work hard on homework and extra circular activities. Look at the sports teams and academic programs out of Paly and Gunn. They are excellent because students apply themselves. Just because your child has a social life or feels that he must not inform his parents of his activities at all times does not mean that he is out drinking or having sex. He is just being a typical American teenager who wants less involvement with his parents. But, if a student does engage in such actives, then let them know the consequences of there actions and then let them carry through with it as long as it is not too dangerous or harmful. Your kids are their own people and sheltering them from possible consequences of their actions will just lead to an attitude that their parents will save them. Let them do it and let them understand what happens when making the wrong choices. To police them and their actions will lead to trust being broken in a relationship and more rebellious behavior.

Posted by Palo Alto Parents are Hippies
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 14, 2009 at 12:02 am

Parenting isn't that difficult. Just get a grip.

Posted by ItsNow2009
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 15, 2009 at 1:53 pm

The behavior of the children is a sign of the times. We have come a long way from the 1950s... we have even come a long way from 1990. What do you expect in a world where we have supposedly have rules and regulations and we see every single one violated and disregarded in some manner, somewhere? Even by people who are supposed to be leading our country... and then we allow it to continue to be done so publicly and blatantly? At least we got Nixon to resign... How can we expect children to learn the proper values we want them to learn when there is a popular culture that defecates on these values daily (music, video games, and TV - oh "d'evils" we allow the TV to share)?

"You sharpen the human appetite to the point where it can split atoms with its desire; you build egos the size of cathedrals; fiber-optically connect the world to every eager impulse; grease even the dullest dreams with these dollar-green, gold-plated fantasies, until every human becomes an aspiring emperor, becomes his own God... and where can you go from there?"

- Al Pacino as John Milton in The Devil's Advocate

Now... what do I think you all as parents can do about it? Bring back the spanking-induced fear that children once actually had of their parents! And who cares if your kids dont trust you? or are upset by you attempting to parent them (your job as their parent, eh?)... does anyone remember the phrase parents used to say to their children, "You'll thank me for this later."? Have parents become to weak and scared to properly discipline their own children out of fear that their own children wont like them? Parenting is not a popularity contest. Re-assert the former, traditional nature of the parent-child relation.

Posted by Joseph Adams
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 15, 2009 at 5:06 pm

Quite a variety of comments; each one of them adding someting accurate in their on right.

One point I would like to make. Successful acedemic performance and involvement in admirable extracurricular activties does not mean that kids are not involved in hair-raising behaviour. I know two consistent honor roll performers who have been involved in numerous and progressively more risky and deviant activities. In both cases it started in middle school with the alcohol and marijuana exposure.

I became aware of two 13 year olds having clandestine sleep-overs in the girl's bedroom. After unsuccessfully attempting to get the Palo Alto Police to take action while the kids were naked in bed, the parent in the house was informed and the kids were exposed. The only question from the parents afterward was "How did you find out?" No consequences from either child's parents. Just the standard, "I need you to refrain from this type of behaviour if I am going to be able to trust you."

Now one year later, the "couple" in reference are having even more sleep-overs and doing even more risky things. The parents do not want to know.

Posted by Challenged Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 15, 2009 at 7:42 pm

As a parent who does not spank etc., I am afraid not of my children's trust or whether they like the way I parent them.

I am afraid they will learn to punish and control, rather than find solutions.

The trick is to parent without setting a bad example of behavior. Spanking, overwhelming physical force, etc. should not be the first thing kids turn to in order to resolve problems.

Posted by wake up
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 15, 2009 at 10:56 pm

Ada and others-- yes there are middle school kids who drink and do drugs-- if you do not think so you are kidding yourself. It is shocking, but true.

Posted by SAHM
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2009 at 9:18 am

Hey, I grew up here and there were parties in big houses and all the rest of the stuff going on mentioned.

If a person has parented correctly, they don't need to worry about their children engaging. Kids know right from wrong. The kids who have parents who don't care about them learn to not care about themselves. And strict parenting doesn't work either because kids want to feel that they have some control over their own lives.

Posted by ItsNow2009
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 16, 2009 at 2:22 pm

I think it would be hilarious if a child attempted to solve their problems with another child via spanking.
Spanking a child does not have to be a show of overwhelming physical force, but can be a sign of how inappropriate the child's behavior may have been. Of course overuse of spanking will take away the "severity" of the disciplinary action of spanking and it will lose effectiveness.
Strict parenting - of course if a child feels overcontrolled by their parents they will rebel to certain extents. However, strict parenting does not have to be entirely Authoritarian; it can have a give and take aspect that will allow children to feel as in control of their lives as they want while the parent is still being involved. Some questions you might want to ask yourself as a parent: How in control should I be of my child's life? To what age? How much weight/influence should I allow the child in decision-making processes? Have I instilled the proper values so the child understands that I can make reasonable requests and the child will understand and respect them? Is my child mature enough and intelligent enough to be receptive to explanations of my decisions and be a part of the decision-making process? How can I explain my decisions so that my child understands them? These type of questions will allow you to develop an effective "strict" parenting style without coming across as overbearing and authoritative.

Posted by Meth_mom
a resident of Woodside
on Mar 16, 2009 at 4:43 pm

If the kids are't partying in someone's house, they'll party in a creek or hillside somewhere. Having grown up here, I must say that Palo Alto kids push the limits on teenage behavior, but somehow counter balance that with getting into good colleges and seeming respectable otherwise. Kind of an annoying trait really.

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