A few weeks ago the Middle Country School District sponsored a community forum entitled "Rise above the Influence." It was held at Centereach High School. The day consisted of a wide range of speakers who addressed many of the serious social issues facing students and parents, not only Middle Country School District but across the country. A few hundred parents and students made a commitment to be a part of this day.
The speakers that were recruited to challenge the community spoke to some pretty intense issues. The heart of what was addressed was peer pressure, positive decision-making and not being influenced by our culture of recklessness. The community response was extraordinary.
Unfortunately, most who gathered that Saturday were already committed to making a positive difference, acting responsibly and rising above the influence. As one speaker pointed out, we need to be concerned about all the empty seats in the auditorium. He went on to say that if there was a tragedy in the Middle Country Schools this weekend, there would not be a space large enough within the school district to accommodate all the parents that would want some kind of action taken immediately.
The speakers challenged the audience, young and old alike, to focus on positive decision-making. They encouraged students not to be seduced by negative peer pressure. They encouraged parents to stand up, be counted and be parents-take control. Don't be afraid to say no and set, appropriate boundaries and limits for their children.
Throughout the day students were reminded that one poor choice, one reckless decision, could be lethal. They were encouraged to think about their choices, about their friends and about the social circumstances they find themselves within.
Parents were reminded that being silent about serious social issues was potentially dangerous and destructive to their children. Tolerating illegal drug and alcohol use among teenagers is reprehensible. To be the cool parent and turned a blind eye to the destructive decisions of one's children could be catastrophic.
Many of the speakers encouraged parents to stand in solidarity with one another and work more closely with their school community to protect the quality of life of all of our students. If parents felt greater support in some of their hard decisions, more parents might have the courage to take the more difficult position on some of the more controversial social issues facing our children's social behavior.
For example: every parent of a senior high school student would probably like to freeze dry their high school senior and thaw them out after college graduation. Thus, avoiding all the delicate social choices around high school graduation; social issues like: the prom, the pre-prom party, the post-prom party, renting houses in the Hamptons, sleeping at the beach all night and a million other possibilities.
Some parents would like their local high school to take a stronger position on some of the social issues around graduation. Other parents believe the school should mind its business. If we are concerned about our children's livelihood, then we need to come together and present a united front on some of the more delicate social issues we face.
Graduation is a complicated time of year, but teenage social behavior around graduation from high school is out of control. Someone has to have the courage to "Rise above the Influence" and challenge people to recalibrate their moral compass and work harder at protecting the quality of life of our young people.
As adults, we have to stop passing the buck and move beyond our denial. Recently, a school community was overwhelmed with grief that could have been avoided. A very well loved and diligent teacher was supervising an afterschool activity. While supervising, he discovered a group of students engaged in illegal behavior. He caught them smoking pot behind the school gym. After he confronted them, he asked them to empty their pockets. They were compliant.
The group of students consisted of two juniors and two seniors. The students involved were decent students, and basically good kids, from good families. The two juniors had an abundance of pain medication in their pockets. One senior just had a pack of Marlboro cigarettes in his pocket. The other senior have a little baggie of a white substance. To the teacher, it looked like heroin. When he confronted the senior, he vehemently denied it.
All the students involved were never in trouble before. If they were only busted for pot, the teacher probably would have let them go with a stern reprimand. However, he was concerned about the other substances they had in their possession. He was especially concerned about the senior who had heroin in his possession. The parents of all four students were called. The students and their parents met with the principal. Three of the four students acknowledged wrongdoing and their parents assured the principal that it would not happen again and that they would deal with them appropriately.
The fourth student, the senior in possession of heroin, denied any wrongdoing except for smoking weed. He claimed the baggie wasn't his. His parents defended him and said their son does not do drugs. They minimized the fact that he was caught smoking pot on school grounds.
Two days later, that senior was found dead due to a heroin overdose. His parents are devastated and his school community is overwhelmed with grief. The teacher involved is beside himself because he knew the student was lying and he could not convince the student s overly defensive parents that he had a serious problem. The parents denial contributed to this senseless loss of life.
Reckless drug and alcohol use does not have one particular profile. Every high school and college student is potentially vulnerable, even good kids from good families!