Last summer, my neighbors went abroad for two weeks, leaving their teenagers (boy age 16, girl age 14) to fend for themselves. These kids (who are not particularly considerate even when their parents are around) took advantage of the situation. Day and night, they hosted endless numbers of friends, and the noise was intolerable. Once, when I went over to ask them to quiet down, I was appalled by what I saw. Dirty dishes were all over the place, “decorated” by busy ants and cockroaches. I also saw empty beer cans and magazines of a sort they wouldn’t dare bring home when their parents are there.
One evening, the boy didn’t come home at all and the girl panicked and asked for my help. It turned out that he had gotten drunk in a pub and then slept at a friend’s home. The next morning, both kids begged me not to tell their parents, and I reluctantly promised. A day before their parents’ return, the kids cleaned the apartment thoroughly, leaving no traces of the month-long bacchanal.
In two weeks, the parents are traveling again. Should I speak with them about the situation? Our relationship is polite but distant.
— Harried in Herzliya —
It is not clear what worries you more: suffering from noise and insects, or the welfare of these teenagers.
You certainly have the right to a peaceful and hygienic environment and to freedom from “Help!” appeals. However, arranging these conditions doesn’t necessarily require speaking to the parents. They might interpret your comments as criticism, and the kids might view you as a tattletale. Instead, why not find a way to talk to the kids themselves? They are a year older now. Hopefully, they are more responsible and also remember that you are a decent person who kept a difficult promise.
On the other hand, if you’re motivated by concern for these kids’ welfare and worried that speaking to them won’t be enough, consider what might be the best way to achieve your goals. Don’t wait until a day before the parents’ departure, when they will be preoccupied and pressed for time. And are you the best person for the task? Maybe a neighbor with closer ties to these parents should approach them, gently telling them what happened last year and even tactfully offering help (“If you want, I can look in on the kids every day” or “Given the security situation, I’d be happy to give the kids my cellphone number, for emergencies”).
If the only alternative is speaking to the parents yourself, do so soon, in a relaxed atmosphere, over a cup of coffee, to give them enough opportunity to talk things over afterwards with their children, or to make other arrangements for them. Offer technical assistance (collecting their mail and watering their plants if the children go away) and ask how they can be contacted when abroad. Promise, of course, not to use this phone number except in the case of a real emergency.