A Call To Greater Accountability

Written by fatherfrank  |  22. February 2007

Over the past several months, there have been countless tragic stories involving young people who have made reckless decisions. This poor decision-making has seriously impacted their lives and the lives of others. Many of the young people involved are from good families. They're well educated, having attended both exceptional high schools and colleges.
The question to be raised is, "why?" Why are so many fine young people making lethal, destructive decisions? The young people in question are bright, well-educated, from decent homes and neighborhoods and have reasonable parental support. Why have we failed?
These are not isolated circumstances of poor decision-making. These are a growing number of young people who must think they are invincible and are above the law. If they didn't believe that, they would not take the chances that they do.
The case of the eighteen-year-old Lindenhurst boy responsible for the hit and run of the University of Connecticut freshman girl is a tragedy of extreme magnitude. The boy in question was not only drinking underage, but was operating a motor vehicle under the influence in the early hours of a weekend morning.
In that impaired state, he hit an innocent college coed, who was in a crosswalk at the University of Connecticut. He left her there to die! To make matters worse, he allegedly called his parents from his cell phone the next afternoon, from an upstate university.
Allegedly, his parents counseled him to tell the passengers in his car to keep the whole incident a secret. They were urged to not even tell their parents. The accused boy's parents allegedly vowed to quickly get the banged up vehicle fixed. They went to great lengths to attempt to disguise their son's involvement in the fatal crash.
What goes on in a parent's mind when their child is in such serious trouble? The conflict between protecting your child and setting an example of honor and truth must be overwhelming. As parents, our instinct is to rescue and protect our children, even when they are wrong.
However, where do we draw the line and hold people accountable? An innocent life was lost because of another's recklessness. Unfortunately, too many of our children are being rescued and enabled by their parents. Thus, they are never held accountable for any real decisions they make.
How do you justify covering up a death your son inflicted on an innocent bystander? The tragedy here is twofold: an innocent college freshman girl has lost her life, and for all practical purposes, the life of the victimizer has also been lost.
The parents of the dead girl brought much needed clarity to this tragic human circumstance. They said, "Our daughter was not about vengeance and we shall not be." They went on to say, "When your actions, in any way, have inflicted harm on others, stop and render aid! Help one another! Do not run and hide from your obligations."
Those powerful words are disarming. They challenge us to take pause and think about what is really important. Destructive decision-making and destructive social behavior is out of control. Too many innocent lives are being victimized.
Unfortunately, many parents reading this column may feel that the parents of the boy who killed the college freshman coed were right for doing what they did on behalf of their son. Whether or not his parents face legal peril is immaterial. What is of greater concern is the attitude of denial and enabling inappropriate behavior.
Every few months, we hear another horrific story about an out of control young person victimizing other people. Too often, the out of control behavior leads to the death of an innocent person. What will it take for us to take notice and begin to speak and act differently? Whose son or daughter has to die senselessly before we stand up as adults and demand greater accountability from each other and from our children?
By all accounts, the young man in question comes from a good family. He was well liked in high school and was a reasonable college student. Those close to him would say he was just an average college kid, having a good time.
He probably didn't start his underage drinking while he was away at college. Like many of his peers, he probably began drinking in middle school or high school. Unfortunately, many parents tolerate teenage drinking because they feel they have no other choice and/or they believe it is a rite of American passage.
We give a mixed message about what is socially acceptable. By our silence, we convey that breaking certain laws is okay. Falsifying ID's is a lucrative business on college campuses. More often than most of us would like to know, a growing number of college students have falsified identifications so that they can purchase alcohol and get into clubs and pubs more easily.
Most of the tragic stories that we've read about this past year, have involved excessive alcohol use and/or illegal drug use. If the truth be told, illegal alcohol and drug use among underage high school and college age students is on the rise. It is no longer a social behavior of the fringe student, but is now seen by many as normative behavior for young people of every social group.
There will not be a social gathering this weekend among high school and college students where illegal drugs and alcohol won't be present. Students will engage in this behavior, either before, during or after the party.
Unfortunately, at an increasing number of high school house parties where parents are present, teenage drinking will be tolerated. Their rationale is: they are going to drink anyway and they would rather have them in a safe environment. Therefore, these parents believe they are being responsible and are keeping these teenagers safe by taking their keys from them.
From my perspective, that kind of thinking is dangerous. If we take the blinders off and look more closely at our children's social behaviors, many of us would be shocked at what's going on right under our noses.
On the North Shore, many of our children are being exposed to illegal drugs that are lethal on a regular basis. High school students are getting together socially, drinking beer and eating brownies laced with marijuana. Many parents are oblivious to this.
Obviously, whatever we have attempted to do educationally and parentally has failed. Parents, communities and schools need to revive their former partnership. We need to develop new initiatives that we can implement and support, regarding appropriate teenage social behavior. We cannot turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to minor infractions. We need to consistently call our children and each other to greater accountability. It is clearly an issue of life or death!

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