Friendship, a very interesting concept. If you talk to the average teenager, he or she would identify friends as among the most important people in their lives. During teenage hood, more often than not, friends have more of a hold and influence on our children than parents.
How often during those challenging teenage years did we as parents feel we were competing with our children's friends? More often than we would like to admit, when it came to choosing between family and friends, we lost to friends.
Some of that conflict is natural and very much a part of growing up. Ideally, friends can and should be a positive energy source. Unfortunately, today there seems to be much more at stake than childhood pranks or occasional poor decisions.
So many of our teenagers are being faced with many intense decisions at a much earlier age. They are being confronted with social choices that they are ill equipped to handle.
In our larger community it is not uncommon to hear of middle school coeds experimenting with sex or even being involved in a committed relationship. We hear countless stories of high school students who drink regularly, smoke pot like some people smoke cigarettes and experiment with a wide range of street drugs.
Much of this social behavior is happening in front of unsuspecting parents. Your son or daughter is cooperative at home, is a reasonable student and is active in school sports. As a parent, you know all the players: your son or daughter's friends and their parents. The young people involved are good kids. Their parents espouse the same values that you do.
There is an air of comfort and safeness. However, what you and other parents don't know is that some of these teenagers are far more advanced in their thinking than their ages reveal. In your homes, while you are upstairs, things are happening that are potentially lethal downstairs. During the summer, in the late afternoon when everyone is down the street at the beach, there are things happening among your children that would shock you. Some of that behavior is changing your impressionable adolescent forever.
Twenty years ago, drugs, sex and alcohol tended to be the possible behaviors for a very small group of teenagers who seemed to be a little beyond their years and possibly even rebellious. Unfortunately, those behaviors today have become very mainstream among very average, pretty compliant young people.
Most high school students see nothing wrong with social drinking, especially if they are not drinking and driving and are socially compliant in all other areas of their lives. They dismiss the "twenty-one" drinking age law as simply ridiculous. For many, it is laughable.
Smoking pot for many teenagers is like smoking cigarettes. They feel it is their right if they choose, especially if it does not affect their schoolwork or their family. It does not faze many that it is illegal.
Many teenage coeds see sex as a very personal and private matter. They believe that parents and other adults have no jurisdiction in that area, especially if they are practicing safe sex.
What is fueling this kind of thinking among many of our young? Probably the most significant contribution to this thinking is the fact that we adults are very inconsistent in all of these areas. We say things we don't mean and/or cannot follow through on or implement.
Illegal teenage drinking will continue as long as we take the position that "every kid does it, that it is part of growing up." It is true that many teenagers drink illegally. For some it is experimental, but for others, it is the beginning of social behavior that could become lethal.
In my twenty-five years in this community, I have presided at too many teenage funerals where the cause of death was alcohol. As recently as these past few months, I presided at three funerals of people in their late thirties whose cause of death was alcohol. I have known each one of them since they were fifteen, which is when they started drinking recklessly.
Our high school students, especially our juniors and seniors, will continue to push the envelop around drinking. However, we don't help the social situation if we take a position of indifference or tolerance. That is where consistency comes in. Yes, it will cause conflict, stress and tension in your family, but it may save your teenager's life. Welcome to parenthood.
It is hard to hold your son or daughter to a social standard that you don't abide by. If you smoke weed, even just occasionally, how can you expect your son or daughter not to? If you discover pot and other paraphernalia in your house and don't address that, what message are you giving? Inconsistency is saying that this kind of behavior is acceptable.
Social relationships are probably the most complicated because most of us grew up with parents who did not really talk to us about the complexities of relationships. It is not enough to tell our kids to wait regarding sex and/or just practice safe sex. There is so much more to this vital and important part of life, love and relationship. Not trying to have these conversations with our children is irresponsible. Yes, it is hard, complicated and often frustrating, but necessary.
Friendship, unfortunately for many of our children, is shallowly defined. Too often, it is centered around a code of secrecy that is destructive. They believe the sharing of any information, especially with parents and adults, is betrayal and "ratting out." So, they will protect their "so called friends" who are engaged in life threatening behaviors, abusive drinking, reckless drug use and/or unsafe sex.
True friends do not betray each other, but a true friend should be willing to risk everything, including the friendship to save that friend from destructive behaviors that could put his or her life at risk. Too many teenagers, and adults as well, have missed that class on friendship.