Do you know what your children are doing? In one week, I heard stories of recklessness that were most disheartening.
In my "Experience of Social Work" class, my students intern in a variety of social settings. In our seminar class, one student intern shared with her classmates that in the middle school she is working in, the administration was concerned about fifteen sixth graders who were participating in gang initiation. A number of those young boys wanted to drop out of school so they could be available for "gang assignments."
Another intern asked what some of the initiation requirements were. She said beating up a certain number of kids and having sex with at least thirteen girls, to name two requirements. When asked what parents' responses were, the intern said a good number of parents minimized their sons' involvement. They were quoted as saying most of the activity was "wanna be" gang stuff, but was not the real thing.
However, the school administration did not share that perspective. Quite to the contrary, they were very alarmed and concerned about these students. They identified them as clearly at risk.
On the North Shore where gang activity is still in the infancy stage, local youth workers indicate that it is growing rapidly.
Underage drinking and illegal drug use seem to be on the rise, even though many parents are in denial.
Over the past few months, I have heard of countless teenage after school gatherings with no supervision, where drinking and drug use was rampant.
In one after school gathering, a fifteen year old got so sick that the host, a fourteen year old, called 911 and an ambulance was sent.
In addition to the increase in alcohol consumption, the use of prescription and over the counter medications is on the rise. The list of high school coeds that are hooked on painkillers and steroids is escalating.
What is deeply troubling is the growing number of good kids who are drinking and driving before school. When they are confronted, they see nothing wrong with their behavior. Their attitude is, "I am a good kid. I do my schoolwork, respect my teachers and do the right thing. What is the big deal?"
Therein lies one of the really troubling concerns. A growing number of high school coeds don't see a big deal with underage drinking and certain illegal drug use, especially if they are compliant in every other area of their life.
Somehow, we failed them in their thinking process. What happened to the fact that it is against the law and potentially lethal to drink underage and drive?
As I further looked into these concerns, I was troubled by the indifference that a number of parents expressed. It was an attitude of subtle toleration and almost the desire of peaceful coexistence.
A number of parents have taken the position that in the grand scheme of life, it is not such a big deal. High school kids are going to drink. Some parents contend that you are not going to stop them, so why make the effort. Just try to keep things safe, whatever that means.
Do you where your son or daughter is? A social worker from a local, large private high school received an e-mail from a Mom asking if he could connect with her son. He went to connect with her son and found that he was missing in action. The social worker called the Mom back and asked if she was sure her son was in school. She was a little put out and was pretty adamant that her son was in school. She said she saw him leave the house at his regular time.
Upon closer investigation, the social worker discovered that the boy did come to school, but right before first period, he and three buddies took off in a car. The rumor was that they went to the boy's house to hang out.
The social worker decided to check out the rumor. The boy in question only lives five minutes from the school. Sure enough, as the social worker approached the front door, he heard deafening "high school kids music." He banged on the door and finally the student in question answered. He was shocked to see who it was. With no resistance, the boys all went back to school. They were given in school detention and twenty-five hours of community service for leaving the campus without permission and drinking illegally.
Needless to say, when the social worker called the Mom to fill her in on the whole story, she was very apologetic. She was shocked to learn that they were drinking at 11:00am in her living room. She was grateful that they were safely back in school.
In another local, public high school, a junior was busted for smoking pot in the bathroom. He received an in-school suspension. His parents were called.
JC was afraid to return home. After class, he and a few friends went on a road trip that lasted eight weeks.
It started in New York City, then they flew to Disney. They traveled up the coast, stopping along the way and eventually settling in New Jersey.
This little group of vagabonds financed their adventure through petty theft while on the road and hocking things they took from home.
The adventure would have continued indefinitely, if the police did not pick JC up in Jersey City. His parents came and brought him home. He told them loudly and clearly that he really did not want to go with them. The police told him he did not have a choice.
The three hour car ride was in total silence. Every question his parents raised fell on deaf ears.
JC was barely sixteen when he hit the road. The year before, he had gotten in trouble for running away, smoking pot and drinking.
His parents filed a PINS petition against him. His behavior and social compliance improved greatly over the next year. Finally, he was released for good behavior.
He did not use counseling. He detested going. He went because his probation officer made it clear that JC would be sent away for non-compliance.
After JC came home from his eight week odyssey around the East coast, his parents brought him to another counselor to attempt to explore his options. He told this counselor he strongly disliked his parents and had no desire to have a relationship with them. They were destroyed by that comment. JC made it clear that he was just biding his time until he could live in his own.
JC's parents feel powerless. They are responsible for their son until he is twenty-one, but now that he is sixteen, he is free to come and go as he pleases.
There are few to no supports out there to help families that are truly in crisis. JC's parents feel hopeless and overwhelmed.
Short of JC committing a crime, there is not much one can do to foster change and growth in his life.