Are We Raising Anonymous Strangers?

Time. No one seems to have any. We are rushing all day long from one activity to another. How much of our day is spent in mindless chaos on a fast track to nowhere?

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Time. No one seems to have any. We are rushing all day long from one activity to another. How much of our day is spent in mindless chaos on a fast track to nowhere?

Most two parent households, whether it is needed or not, have both parents working. If there are children, they are programmed into something from the time they rise in the morning until bedtime. Depending on their age, television, video games and computer mayhem are part of the daily routine.

In many busy households, there is time for every activity under the sun, but little time for a daily family meal or a daily conversation. Everyone is racing in four million directions. At first glance, all the activity seems purposeful and productive; but is it really? Is endless activity at the expense of quality human contact really worth it? As parents, do we want to raise our children as anonymous strangers? Or do we want a life-giving relationship with our children, where they know us and we know them?

Unlike yesteryear, there are many distractions that damage the fabric of quality family life. Thirty years ago teenage social life was very different. Computer technology was still an infant and not widely present in most homes. Cell phones and beepers were not the norm. Life moved at a slower place. There was time to smell the flowers. Life was not a race to no place.

Parenting is probably the most important human enterprise on the planet. One is not born with innate parenting skills. When you marry, you don't get a manual. It does not necessarily get better or easier after your first-born. In these days and times, parenting is challenging and oftentimes overwhelming.

The climate that the present generation is being nurtured within is void of many essential nutriments for positive growth and development. Positive role models and heroes are painfully absent. Inconsistent attitudes on the part of adults regarding drugs, sex and alcohol, make raising teenagers even more difficult than in years past.

How does one talk to a rebellious, uninterested sixteen or seventeen year old, when we as adults don't know how to communicate very effectively? Communication in general is pathetic.

Thus, we don't talk with, we talk at our children. They listen selectively and we do the same. The simple issues are a major project. Too often we never get to the complicated concerns. We are embarrassed; the time is never right. How do you engage your son or daughter in a conversation about sex, drugs and relationships? If we don't create these conversations, then when do our children have a forum to talk about these complicated life issues?

When many of us were growing up, certain delicate issues were covered in school, in the athletic arena and were reinforced in church or temple. Since that practice is almost non-existent, parents don't have that support. Unfortunately, we have paralyzed our schools. So, even basic principles regarding character education cannot be introduced.

Our schools are a wellspring of opportunity. They should not parent our children. However, if we were able to create a partnership, they could be a wonderful source of reinforcement, support and affirmation in a world that too often hovers in darkness and selfishness.

TK is a senior in high school. He is a Lacrosse - all American, above average student from an intact family. His Dad is the president of his own company; his Mom is an elementary school librarian. He has two brothers, aged sixteen and fifteen and two sisters, aged fourteen and twelve. He is the oldest sibling. Everyone seems to get along.

As a family, they try to eat together. However, since between sports and extracurricular activities, there are many occasions when the family cannot gather for a meal, both parents make it a priority to take their own kids to practice during the week and are present for most games. They are a typical family on the run, but a family that would describe themselves as close.

As the oldest, TK charted the course for his younger brothers and sisters. On many levels, he made it easy for his parents. He never pushed anything to the limit. His parents saw him as cooperative, hard working and easy going. In many ways, he was a wonderful role model for his younger siblings.

However, like many teenage young adults, especially males, he was not a talker. He always led you to believe that his world was fine and life was great. Rarely, if ever, did anyone challenge TK and where he was with his world.

Most people believe that if their children are involved in athletics and/or after school activities, they are home free. They don't worry about their children being exposed to inappropriate behavior or a climate of negativity and social non-compliance.

In our present age, especially in schools, no matter what their profile, there is no school venue that is free from students making destructive choices. No family or school activity is exempt from the challenge of reckless behavior.

A growing number of our bright, athletic, socially minded teenagers believe it is their right to recreationally smoke pot and drink, even though both behaviors are against the law. They believe that as long as they are respectful to authority and productive in school, what's the harm? A recent survey of high school students around the issue of drinking revealed that almost sixty percent of all twelfth graders admit to drinking on a regular basis.

When TK began his senior year, more than anyone realized, this great young man felt unbearable stress. How could anyone know? He wore the plastic smile as always and continued the unfortunate charade. While internally, he was dying. As his journal revealed, the pressure of college acceptance, excelling in his sport, being a role model for his brothers and sisters and getting an above average GPA became too much. He spoke to no one about this pressure. He felt reaching out would be perceived as weakness and would be a blemish on the family name. So, he internalized everything.

Unbeknownst to his parents, TK started drinking on the weekends with a group of his teammates. The drinking became a form of medication. He even started smoking pot just to relieve the stress and pressure. Although some relief came, he became embarrassed that he was using these behaviors to escape. The shame became almost as painful as the depression.

One Friday, after smoking pot with some friends, TK came home early from school, pulled his car into the garage, closed the door and left the car running. He died a few hours later of carbon monoxide poisoning. He picked a day when he knew no one would be home before 8:00pm. He left a note in his textbook apologizing, but expressing that the pain had just gotten to be too much and he saw no way out.

Even though we have no time, we need to make time to build relationships, to foster more than superficial communications. It is easy to hide behind good activities and not engage in the complexities of human relationships. There is no escaping it - raising children and maintaining a life-giving family is a hard and full time job. We need to take the blinders off and recognize that we need each other. Under no circumstance can we consciously or unconsciously abdicate responsibility for our children.

Emotional pain untreated is more lethal than any street drug in America.