At a recent meeting of helping professionals who work with young people, there was a disturbing air of frustration expressed. Those gathered indicated that teenage acting out was escalating at an alarming rate.
Professionals working on the Gold Coast and those working with students in middle to lower class communities were all echoing the same concerns.
Teenage drinking is up; Drug experimentation is up; Prescription drug use is up; Unprotected sex and cutting class are up. There are new variables to add to these social equations: gang activity is increasing at an alarming pace, as is teenage "cutting."
Parental denial is at an all time high. Many schools are minimizing their student's poor behaviors.
When a number of parents were recently confronted about teenage drinking before school and on the weekends, many minimized it as a rite of American passage. They felt that some parents were overreacting, even though in the last month five teenagers were killed or seriously injured because of recklessness around underage drinking.
The underage drinking issue is out of control. Teenage death is not even a deterrent. Why is this social behavior so volatile among our young? Many teenagers who are reasonably intelligent and responsible feel we adults are hypocritical when it comes to the drinking laws. We pass all kinds of prohibitions that are never equally enforced.
We say that at seventeen, you are old enough to drive a car, live on your own, go away to school and bear arms in war, but you are not old enough to decide to drink or not to drink.
We consistently give a mixed message in this area. On special occasions, we adults illegally suspend the law and sanction "reasonable" (whatever that means) teenage drinking. It is okay to have a drink at dinner with your parents (although it is still against the law) or have a drink at a pre or post prom party with supervision as long as none of the drinkers will be drivers.
The Duke scandal brought to light that illegal drinking among high school and college athletes is rampant, even though many athletes at all levels sign contracts to abstain. Coaches and parents are well aware of their athletes' scandalous behavior and choose to coexist with this potentially dangerous social behavior.
Why would any young person in our self absorbed culture abstain from illegal alcohol and recreational drug use, if they are not going to be held accountable?
Remember, we are not talking about bad kids, but rather good, all around American kids, who genuinely believe most of our social prohibitions are ridiculous. They further contend that they should be free to do what they please as long as they act responsibly.
Too many of our schools are being held hostage around these social issues. They are electing to ignore these concerns or are accusing others of distorting their seriousness.
Our schools must be empowered to reclaim those moral standards that call all to students to act with respect, responsibility and accountability.
In simple terms, that means respecting all of our students, no matter what their race, color, creed, economic status, sexual orientation or politics. It means holding all students accountable for the social choices they make. The days of selective enforcement of school policy on student conduct must die.
Although denial is the cornerstone of our social landscape, there are a growing number of parents who are genuinely concerned about their teenagers' social choices. Some parents have even acknowledged that their sons or daughters are out of control. They are frightened. They don't know what to do or where to turn.
The Community Alliance of Northern Brookhaven is one outreach that provides critical information linkage between area school districts, libraries, hospitals, organizations and individuals concerned with the prevention and treatment of substance and alcohol abuse. The Alliance provides a wide range of information and possible connections. (You can contact them at www.community-alliance.com).
The Alliance is definitely a positive resource recently established in our larger community. To its' credit, it has networked a large continuum of professionals who are open to sharing their time and talent with our larger community.
However, you are the parent of an out of control sixteen year old. He is cutting school, drinking and smoking pot. He still comes home on time regarding his weekday curfew, but thinks nothing of going away for the weekend at will, without asking for permission.
As a parent, you've tried everything. You had the parent-child contract - that worked for a day. You reached out to the school social worker. Your son was good for two days. You tried professional counseling. Your son came to the intake appointment, but did not like one of the questions that were asked. He told the worker to "F" off and walked out.
Since April 2005, the PINS legislation has radically changed. Before April 2005, if your son or daughter was out of control, you could file a PINS petition and seek the positive support of Family Court. This could oftentimes broker a positive middle ground solution to your child's reprehensible behavior.
Unfortunately, the new legislation effectively eliminates that support. It encourages and supports a highly therapeutic and diversion approach which in principle sounds great. It provides an entire continuum of excellent resources for families and teens in crisis. However, the major problem is that you must get your acting out teen to that screening appointment. If he or she does not voluntarily come in for that screening, those services are useless.
The system is still trying to create a mechanism that will avail all of these positive services to teens and families in need.
However, we still need a mechanism for those teens who are oppositionally defiant. They are smart enough not to break the law, but relentless enough to continue their reckless and out of control behavior.
The system must find a way to assist this growing list of families in need. Too many good kids are going to fall in the cracks and be lost forever.
We must start this conversation now!