Freedom Grounded in Responsibility

What rights should a high school student have? Should a high school coed be allowed to set his or her own curfew, decide if he or she wants to drink, smoke pot or stand to ...

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What rights should a high school student have? Should a high school coed be allowed to set his or her own curfew, decide if he or she wants to drink, smoke pot or stand to say the pledge of allegiance?

Prom season is fast approaching. Should senior prom goers be allowed to stay out all night, rent hotel rooms in Montauk and stay there for the weekend without supervision?

It becomes very complicated. The teenager of today isn't the same as the teenager of thirty years ago. Today's teenager has been exposed to so much more than the teenager of yesteryear.

Freedom and decision-making are interesting concepts. I think you also need to attach to them the concepts of accountability and consequences.

Young people need to learn how to make positive decisions and also be held accountable if their choices backfire or don't work out as they planned. Too many teenagers want to be independent and free, but don't want any accountability for the choices they make or the positions they espouse.

Freedom and independence demand respect and trust by everyone involved in the equation. They also demand responsibility.

Too often recklessness accompanies an immature use of one's freedom. We want to do what we please with no social expectation at all.

Teenagers should have certain clearly defined freedoms. They should also share more in the decision making that impacts their lives. However, they should also be open to accepting the consequences of their choices, even if they are not happy with the anticipated outcome.

Teenage freedom does not exempt them from the law. So, if you are under twenty-one, you should not expect to drink. The present law does not make any exceptions or allow one's parents to make excuses because of special circumstances.

Smoking pot is against the law and teenage coeds should not expect adults to turn a blind eye to that behavior. Parents who do so are acting recklessly and irresponsibly and should be held accountable.

By the time a teenager reaches high school, he or she should have control over certain behaviors. How he or she dresses, the length of his or her hair and the friends he or she keeps.

Allowing your teenager to have the ultimate decision does not mean that as parents you don't have a right to express your feelings on these matters. Clearly, you have the right to set certain parameters and certain expectations, especially if your son or daughter lives at home.

School is another complicated issue. Most parents want their children to attend school regularly and go to their classes daily. It becomes problematic when your son or daughter cuts and it takes weeks for you to be notified.

An education is a gift and it should be treated accordingly. We should expect that every child be given the minimum of a high school education. Students should not be able to drop out at sixteen (even if they are disruptive).

If most students attend every class, hand in written assignments on time and are not disrespectful or disruptive, more often than not they will pass.

We give our students a mixed message. At every turn, we cut deals that undermine the code of conduct and academic integrity within our schools. We confuse compassion with respect, responsibility and accountability.

JP is a sixteen year old who walks to the beat of a different drummer. He has been rebellious since middle school. The inconsistence, which he is dealt with, fuels his outrageous behavior. He does not believe that any rules apply to him. He literally comes and goes as he pleases, whether it is at home or at school.

His parents demand little to nothing of him. He gives nothing and gets away with it. All his parents ask is that he sleeps at home, attend school and class regularly and eat dinner at least four out of seven days a week with the family.

They don't hassle him about a curfew, about how he dresses or whom he pals around with. Unfortunately, because of all the double standards that surround his lifestyle, he continues to be non-compliant. As parents, they are afraid to hold JP accountable for fear of losing him.

What they choose not to see is that he is out of control. He is out to all hours drinking and partying. He does not sleep at home or come to supper four nights a week. He uses the family home as a flop house. His parents have little recourse and JP knows that they will not take any radical steps to hold him accountable. The school does not hold him accountable at all. They pretend that the code of conduct and integrity don't exist.

Too many times in the last few months JP came very close to losing his life all in the name of freedom.

QR is the same age and is in the same school. He feels like he is in a concentration camp. He has no say over anything and is miserable. He hates school because his parents have set an academic standard that is unreasonable. He tries to talk to them about it, but they are deaf to his concerns. He has no say over how he dresses or what his curfew is. He was even forced to try out for a sport he hated and then purposely got cut because he did not want to play.

He wanted to go to the prom but his parents did not care for his choice of prom date. So to avoid a confrontation, he decided not to go.

QR is held accountable for everything including breathing. His parents cut him no slack. His anger is raging. His parents are too blind to see it. If they don't lighten up, he is going to explode.

Both cases are disturbing. They represent two radical extremes that are rampant in our community. High school students should have progressive freedom grounded in shared decision-making.

As parents, we need to be realistic and pick our battles. We should not micro manage our sixteen year olds lives. We should hold them responsible and accountable for their social choices. We should not exempt them from civil laws or reduce them to rites of passage. Family life should not be a flop house or a prison. We should not pick our children's friends, but we should model the qualities of positive friendships.

As parents, we should empower our high school students to act responsibly, respectfully and honestly. We need to create enough room for them to grow, to make mistakes and to learn from them, so that they will become happy, healthy adults!