Life is about choices. With every choice we make, there is a consequence. Unfortunately, we live in a world that seems to thrive on instant gratification and self-indulgence. A growing number of young people do not think before they act. Too often, they act on impulse rather than on a thought out response.
As adults and parents, we consciously and unconsciously reinforce the attitudes of teenage entitlement and lack of consequences. Too many teenagers are growing up believing that they are entitled to certain rights and privileges, whether they have earned them or not. Some of these very teenagers also believe that there should not be consequences for poor decision-making.
Why do some teenagers consistently make bad choices, even though they have been raised in good families, with good values and tremendous support? There are many reasons why teenagers make poor choices, even if they have been raised in the best of families.
One of the major influences that color how a young person sees his or her life is her or her own sense of self. Self-esteem is a foundational concept in every person's life. Poor self esteem oftentimes contributes to poor decision making because the person in question is constantly seeking approval and acceptance. A young person does not like him or her self. He or she is prone to trying behaviors that are risky for the purpose of social acceptance.
For example, JT is a junior in high school. He doesn't have a lot of friends. He is very self conscious that he is small for his age and not as good looking as his peers. Like most young men his age, he is interested in girls. However, he feels most of the good looking girls are not interested in him. To get their attention, he does foolish things like saying inappropriate things in class to make his classmates laugh and annoy his teachers. He then might offer to supply the beer for the Friday night party because he knows he can steal it from home.
If those decisions don't increase his popularity, he will probably try more risky things to get attention and feel better about himself.
Positive self-esteem doesn't just happen in a person's life. It is a process of self-respect and acceptance that develops over time with the support and affirmation of family and friends. It is hopefully further supported by one's life in school.
If a young person is constantly demeaned, put down and made fun of, he or she is probably not going to be thrilled with him or herself. We have all dealt with teasing. However, nonstop teasing and ridicule are not going to build up the human spirit and make a teenager feel good about him or herself.
We live in a culture where language, on a regular basis, is destructive and negative. Our society sanctions human exploitation and violence against the human person. We live in a world where might makes right and most social conflicts are resolved by a fight.
A sad commentary on that observation is to go to a little league football, hockey or basketball game and listen to what spectators say when a fight breaks out on the field or the court. The urging on and provocation from the stands is oftentimes scandalous. And we wonder why our children are becoming more violent!
Parental involvement or lack thereof is another serious issue that affects teenage decision making. If parents are not involved with their children, are not setting boundaries and guidelines, are not modeling positive decision-making and are not encouraging them to do the right thing, how do these teenagers learn to make positive decisions and act in positive ways?
It seems that a growing number of parents feel that as long as their children do not make poor choices, they do not need any guidance or direction. Unfortunately, because we live in a fast paced society, our children are making countless decisions that we are totally unaware of. If some of those decisions are poor, this doesn't come to light until the damage is done.
Ask yourself the question, how many hours a week do you spend interacting with your teenager? Some of you are probably saying, "My teenager does everything in his power to avoid spending time with me!" However, if the truth be told, we become so busy that we don't spend quality time with our children. More often than not, we have a crisis management style of parenting - if it's not broke, don't fix it!
So, if we believe our son or daughter is navigating the difficult waters of adolescence reasonably well, we leave them alone. When was the last time you asked your son or daughter how he or she was doing in their social relationships, and really listened to their response? Do you know who your children associate with? On the weekend, when they go out, do you know with whom and where they are?
If they're going to a party at someone's home, do you check to see if the party is being supervised by competent adults? Do you find out if alcohol is going to be served and/or tolerated? If your son asks to sleep out, do you talk to the parents to make sure it's okay and that an adult will be home?
All of these questions are basic, but also very uncomfortable. Most of our teenagers go ballistic when we even suggest that we might ask them. If your teenager goes ballistic, do you cave in to his or her pressure and back off? Or, do you do what is right?
The answer to that question is important because it does have an impact on your teenager's decision-making. If your answer is yes, you know that life is not always going to be easy. However, you're also making a statement about how you care for him or her in what you view is right and what is wrong.
We live in a world that constantly gives mixed messages about what is right and what is wrong. As parents and as adults, we must model positive decision-making and positive values, even when it makes us uncomfortable. As responsible parents, we must hold our children accountable for the choices they make, even if they become angry with us. Sometimes being friends with your teenager is not an option if you want to be a positive role model. Today, where does a young person learn right from wrong if not from his or her parents?!
JR is a junior in high school. He is craving for social acceptance. Unfortunately, he has surrounded himself with all the wrong people. To be cool, he steals a car, keeps it for a month and eventually leaves it in a parking lot where the police will find it. He becomes a little folk hero because he got away with it. His friends think he's cool. He does it a second time, but this time he blows through a stop sign. A cop chases him and he crashes the car during the chase. He's arrested for auto theft, but because he's barely sixteen, the case is heard in Family Court. Long story short, he gets a slap on the wrist, a sealed record and probation. When asked about the circumstance, he only admits to stealing one car, because he never got caught for the first one! His thinking is basically, "if you can get away with something, what's the big deal? It only matters if you get caught." In his mind, that was his mistake the second time around.
If JR doesn't change, he will either be in jail, dead or possibly have crippled or killed someone because of his thinking and the fact that he has never really been held accountable for the choices he has made.