Features: The Secret Life of Your Teen

A generation of parents determined to raise perfect children is now being confronted with anything but. What happened?

She was walking across the sand, marching over the dunes of Avalon last summer, when she saw him. Them. Er, it.

It involved Ethan, her 14-year-old son — “a good-looking kid, a sexy kid,” Allison calls him proudly. Anyway, she explains, “He was lying there on his towel, and lying right on top of him was this girl.”

Allison, a successful physician on the Main Line, glanced around the beach. She knew the girl, and could see her mother sitting not far away, seemingly oblivious to the fact — or maybe pleased by it, who could tell? — that her bikini-clad daughter was presently joined at the loins with Allison’s shirtless son. Allison’s sister was another story.

“You have to do something,” she said as Allison sat down next to her, a few beach towels from Ethan.

Right! Do something! But … what? A full frontal confrontation was certainly one option, but did anybody really need that on a gorgeous summer day down the Shore? Then, suddenly, Allison remembered: Like any properly equipped 21st-century teen, Ethan was permanently attached to his cell phone. She scrambled for her own cellie and punched in his number.

“Hello,” Ethan mumbled.

“Ethan, it’s your mother. Now listen to me: Either you come over here right now, or I’m coming over there.”

She saw Ethan’s head pop up and swivel around. Allison waved.

She repeated herself, and a moment later, it was Ethan who was trudging over the golden Avalon sands. “What’s the problem?” he moped.

Allison explained that re-creating Boogie Nights here on the beach, in front of their friends and several hundred members of their income set, was perhaps not the most appropriate activity for him and his young female companion. Ethan grunted, groaned, then spun around and assumed a more PG-rated position on his towel. Crisis over. For now.

But as she tells the story, Allison’s voice mingles incredulousness and anxiety. She mentions everything else she’s found herself dealing with — the drunk kids showing up at her house, the oral-sex offers Ethan has gotten, the other parents who just seem so clueless about it all — and she sighs. “It’s the rodeo,” she says. “It’s the Wild West out there.”

In November of 1988, this magazine featured on its cover a goofily grinning 30-something couple, the woman clearly with child, alongside the breathless cover line: “PREGNANT AT LAST! A GENERATION TAKES THE PLUNGE.” Inside, the cover story detailed how, after dropping out, tuning in, turning on, dropping back in, and then buying houses with seriously awesome hardwood floors, the baby boom generation had at long last decided it was time to reproduce.

Well, that was a sweet 16-and-a-half years ago, and those boomers’ babies are now full-fledged adolescents. How are their parents doing? Put it this way: The generation that took the child-rearing plunge now finds itself in over its head trying to raise its teens. “A nightmare,” one parent says. “Horrible,” agrees another. Says a third, “I feel like I have to be a babysitter again.”