A teenage girl waiting for her geometry tutor offered the most reassuring parenting commentary I've heard in a while.
I was also waiting for my child to finish her math session when Olivia Noel, 15, and I struck up a conversation about phone restrictions imposed by parents. I mentioned that I had turned off my child's data plan as a consequence for using the phone too late at night.
The girl looked at me like she just recognized an old enemy.
"Oh my God! I thought my parents were the only ones who did that!"
She said that whenever she gets in trouble, her parents take away her data plan, phone or computer -- or all of the above.
I decided I needed to check out my competition for Strictest Mother in the World.
"In this day and age, the only effective consequence is taking away their electronic devices, data plans, phones," said Olivia's mother, Tammy Noel. "That really seems to be the only thing that helps kids re-evaluate what they are doing because they dread that consequence so much."
She and her husband have the experience of raising their 19-year-old daughter to give them a sense of perspective with Olivia and her 12-year-old brother. They've been down this road.
When children are very young, parents wonder if they cognitively understand the connection between their behavior and the punishment. When they are older, we know they have the cognitive function to understand our words.
We just wonder if any of those words are sinking in.
There are structural issues compounding the typical tussles during the teen years: the rise of dual-working-parent families and the long hours Americans work compared to the rest of the world. Children are more heavily scheduled, requiring more parental management and transportation. Add to that the blurred boundary between family life and work, and the expectations of ever-greater parental vigilance to monitor virtual and real-life behavior.
The so-called helicopter parents must live in a world with a lot more leisure time to do all that helicoptering. Many parents are often too tired to deal with the backlash of enforcing and sticking to punishments they dispense in the heat of the moment. Consistent discipline requires more parental energy and effort at a time when the demands for those things are already very great.
Noel, for instance, works full-time as the owner of six Sylvan tutoring locations, but is able to interrupt her day to pick up and drop off her younger children at various activities. She's grateful for the flexibility that allows her to manage both, but the interruptions mean she is burning the midnight oil to keep up with her work.
"You get so worn down from trying to manage it all that you become an ineffective parent in holding your kids accountable," she said. "But that's our responsibility as parents."
Sticking to a punishment often creates more work and complications for the parent than it does for the child being disciplined. Often times, a parent needs to be able to contact an older child via phone, so turning off the data plan is the new grounding.
A friend raising a teenager prepared me when I told her about this disciplinary strategy: It won't be the last time you turn off the data, she said.
Olivia said she wishes her parents would be more willing to talk about issues that arise rather than "just taking my stuff away."
Her mother nodded.
"But we've talked about this before," she tells her daughter. "And you knew it would be a consequence if you chose not to follow the rules and live by the expectations. You can talk until you are blue in the face, but if the behaviors don't change, the consequence will occur."
When Olivia complained about strict parents ready to limit data and phone use, she had no idea the moral support she was giving her audience.