What should we do and/or say to parents who act recklessly and irresponsibly? Many schools chronically complain that a growing number of parents are not reachable or ever available for conversations in regards to their child's progress and behavior in school.
Many of these same parents are the first to complain if their children do not excel or navigate school appropriately. They often take a very laissez-faire approach to family life, family rules and teenage social behavior.
Most of us have been deeply saddened by the escalation of drunk driving fatalities in these past few months. In a number of the cases that have been reported in the press this past year, the young people who lost their lives were all underage and under the influence of alcohol.
Having taken a closer look at some of the families involved in these unfortunate tragedies, a number of them had a very casual attitude around teenage drinking and teenage accountability.
In at least three fatalities, the underage teenagers that died were all drinking at a family's home that was supervised by adults, who sanctioned, or at least tolerated, underage drinking. I pressed one parent as to why she tolerated a teenage drinking party at her house. She said: "Every teenager is drinking and I am not going to stop them! I would rather make sure my child is safe, and then force him to socialize elsewhere." There were three deaths in the last few months among families who took that position-and now their sons are dead. There is obviously something wrong with that kind of thinking!
It constantly amazes me as to how many parents are raising their children with little or no accountability. There is no curfew, or study time on a regular basis. No family meal or expected family time on an ongoing basis. In these households, the teenage children come and go as they please.
Effective parenting on a good day is never easy. For most of us parenting teenagers, every day is a challenge. It is also a full-time job and not a part-time arrangement. Today's generation of teenagers have so many additional variables that shape how they see the world. They have more pressure to deal with than the generation before them. Every day, they are faced with countless choices that depending on the choices they make could place their lives at risk.
It is a catastrophic mistake to think one could compare this present generation and their issues with previous generations. Although there are some similarities, technology has radically changed this generation's environment and the issues they must face on a daily basis.
Simply put, it is really hard to be a teenage today. Our culture continuously manufactures mixed messages. This further contributes to the stress and confusion teenagers must face on a regular basis.
As much as our teenagers resist guidance, they really need it from their parents. Unfortunately, a growing number of parents are absent, by choice and/or by circumstance and have little or no relationship with their children. They pay the bills, feed them, clothe them and provide a reasonable house for them to live in, but there is no real ongoing dynamic relationship between parent and child.
This is becoming a growing concern in all of our schools. Parents who hold their teenagers accountable are becoming frustrated, because a growing number of the parents of their children's' friends let them do as they please.
A growing number of parents have an open curfew for their high school students. They let them break the law and drive with junior licenses for social purposes. They tolerate and/or condone teenage drinking, as long as they don't drink and drive. Some parents think they are noble when they allow teenage drinking on their property, but take the teenage partygoers keys and force them to sleep over. They really believe that that's an acceptable social position.
The same group of parents sees nothing wrong with their teenage sons and daughters sleeping out all weekend, even if there is no adult supervision. If asked why, most would express that they believe that their 16 and 17 year olds are mature enough to handle that kind of social circumstance.
Many high school coeds are very mature for their age. Those who are, for the most part, have been raised in an environment with strong positive role models. They have been held accountable for the choices they make. Unfortunately, many of our teenagers are very immature. They have had no guidance with their human development and are rarely held accountable for the choices that they make. Too often, parents put their children in social circumstances that are beyond their coping ability. We set them up for social failure.
As a social community, we must challenge our fellow parents who are not acting responsibly and taking their role as parents seriously. We have a communal obligation for the sake of our children, to challenge those among us who are not acting in the best interest of all of our children.
Recently, I was in Family Court on behalf of a teenage advocacy case. While I was waiting, a 15-year-old boy went before the presiding Family Court Judge. He had been there multiple times before. Needless to say, the judge was not pleased to see him again.
CJ is 15. He's from a family of privilege on the North Shore. This time he was in court on a violation of probation, a drug possession charge and school truancy. His violation of probation was filed because he failed his last drug test. When his probation officer came to his home to see if he was abiding by the court mandated curfew, he was nowhere to be found.
The last time CJ was in court, the Judge read him the riot act. He made it very clear, that if he stood before him again he would send him upstate until his 18th birthday. Although upstate is a secure juvenile facility and not a jail, it is not a nice place to spend an extended period of time.
Even though he violated probation, his probation officer strongly advocated that he be given another chance. He recommended a new local program that was heavily therapeutic, but also demanded the active participation of the parents. The young man was offered a gift. The program was local, it was only six months and it had an excellent representation for success.
When this was presented to his mother and the court wanted her signature to confirm her cooperation and participation, she emphatically said no! She said she did not have the time or the desire to participate. The Judge reminded her that if she said no, he would have no choice but to send her son upstate! She said no! Her son began to cry and was led away.
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