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Protecting Our Children From Themselves

Every time a community loses a teenager due to recklessness and poor decision-making, it not only burdens the young person s family, but an entire community. So much has been written and said, since news ...

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Every time a community loses a teenager due to recklessness and poor decision-making, it not only burdens the young person s family, but an entire community. So much has been written and said, since news spread of the senseless death of the 14-year-old boy from Babylon, who died in the early hours of New Year's Day.

Two high school buddies, not yet old enough to shave, paid two young adults to buy them a bottle of vodka. After a night of drinking at a teenage hangout in the woods with below freezing weather, one boy barely made it home alive; the other boy was found dead at the entrance of the wooded area, where they were hanging out.

The young man that died was described by family members, as the baby of the family. He was a fun-loving 14-year-old who loved to roam around on his bicycle, eat chicken wings, play handball and summer with his cousins in the Midwest. His mother described him as the best part of the family. He was like the glue that kept us together. Everything about him was goodness.

In the days that past after his death everything that was said and written about him spoke of a wonderful, fun loving young man. No one had anything negative to say about this 14-year-old high school freshman. His senseless death sent shockwaves through his local community and high school. Anyone who read a story about him or heard the circumstances of his death was equally shocked and disturbed.

It was New Year's Eve, he asked his mother if he could go to a friend s house and stay out our beyond his 11pm curfew. Although his mother was reluctant to say yes, because he was a good kid who always did the right thing, she said okay. His friend s house was only a few blocks away. He was supposed to ride his bike there. In a million years, she never thought he and his friend would bypass the friend s house, go into the woods to a makeshift fort and consume a whole bottle of vodka.

Unfortunately, there are countless stories of good kids from great families that are making poor choices and losing their lives or causing others to lose theirs. The circumstance that took a nave 14-year-old s life is not so out of the ordinary. The use of alcohol among high school students has been on the rise for a long time, despite what the media and the printed press tell you. Those of us who work with teenagers hear first-hand accounts of the drinking parties that go on over the weekends in people's homes, on the beach and in the woods. Our middle school students are starting to drink in record numbers.

False IDs are a very lucrative business. High school students have their own underground and are very clever when it comes to getting proof that they are over 21. Many who need it also have the cash to pay whatever price necessary. There is always a never ending list of college-age students who are willing to buy beer and alcohol for underage teenagers.

The senseless death of a 14-year-old freshman on New Year's morning raises a series of important issues for all adults to reflect upon. No one is immune to poor decision-making. Good kids are vulnerable to make bad choices. The drug and alcohol epidemic has no one profile. Every teenager is vulnerable. As parents, we need to talk to our kids about their social choices. Even our good kids need to be engaged in those conversations. Too many young people think they're invincible and take foolish risks.

Too many good parents think their good kids are above reproach, and not vulnerable to poor decision-making. We need to be mindful that our influence over our children is impaired because of the media, the Internet, their friends and their social environment.

How many parents of junior and senior high school students know what their children are doing when they leave home? Do your children have a curfew? Do you check to see that they are where they say they are going to be? Trust is an important concept. However, kids are kids. They are going to take shortcuts and change the rules as it suits them. Most times it is harmless. Unfortunately, at other times it s lethal. You need to know your children s friends by name, and know their parents as well. As a parent, it is important to know if other parents share your value system.

It is dangerous to allow middle school and high school students to hang out in a home that is unsupervised. As a parent, you should be concerned if other parents permit teenage drinking in their home. It's nonsense, if they use the line that they won't let your son or daughter drink or drive, will take their keys and/or will make them stay overnight. In very simple terms, it's against the law! If we want to change the law, then change the law. Let s not support breaking the law.

It continues to boggle my mind that seventh and eighth graders have no curfew on the weekend. If there is a curfew, they can stay out until one or two in the morning. More and more high school juniors and seniors are reporting that they have no curfew and can come and go as they please.

Recently, I was speaking to a group of parents, who expressed frustration that they could not enforce a curfew. I raised the question, who was in charge in their family? There was dead silence and blank stares from all in the group.

Parenting is a very hard enterprise. It's a full-time job. It's hard work and at times, very painful and frustrating. However, our children need us to be full-time parents who are in charge of our families. We need to set reasonable guidelines that are enforceable, and we need to enforce them. We need to hold our children accountable for their social choices. We need to be in continual conversation with them around friends and moral decision-making. They need clarity from their parents, and they need their parents to lead by example.

Too often, school and other social environments only complicate and contradict that which we try to teach our children at home. That is why we must be vigilant in keeping the lines of communication open, and knowing what our children feel and think about a wide range of social issues. That is why it's imperative that you meet your children's friends and know the places they go to.

If you want to get an education on what your children are being exposed to, go online and look at My Space and Facebook websites. Even the most liberal minded among us will be shocked and appalled at what is being posted on the sites of middle school and high school students. Even if your own children's postings are harmless, this is what they are exposed to on a regular basis. How does a young teenager develop a positive moral compass in this environment?

Hopefully, since the tragic loss of the teenager on the South Shore, some valuable lessons have been learned. The most important lesson is that all of our children are vulnerable to poor decision-making at any given time. No one is exempt. As parents, we need to keep the conversation open and dynamic. We need to know what our children are doing and where they're going. We should not be afraid to say no. It's not a dirty word and sometimes it is a necessity.

Our children are our greatest natural resource. Sometimes we have to protect them from themselves. That is probably our greatest challenge as parents! Don't be silent and blind.