There is an interesting issue that keeps reemerging and it has to do with parental rights. Unfortunately, we live in a state that has a double standard. Technically, we say that at the age of sixteen a young person can become emancipated from his or her parents. That means he or she can leave home, live where he or she wants, drop out of school if he or she chooses and can literally come and go as he or she pleases.
In the same state, we say that eighteen is the legal age for adulthood. You can apply for a marriage license. You can enlist in the military without parental consent. You can be given a senior drivers license, but you cannot legally buy and consume alcohol or buy and smoke cigarettes.
To purchase and consume alcohol, in every state in the union, one must be twenty-one. In New York State, we have a host of laws regarding the drinking age and the consequences for non-compliance. Unfortunately, too often they are inconsistently implemented. In New York State, parents are responsible to provide their children with adequate food, clothing and shelter until they turn twenty-one.
The inconsistency, the lack of clarity and the erratic enforcement of these age requirements, clearly paralyze a parent s effort at effective parenting. A growing number of parents are expressing intense frustration in the system that is pitting children against their parents and parents against their children.
It is frightening to think of one s sixteen year old dropping out of school and basically calling the shots in one s home. Parents have little recourse when it comes to calling their children to responsibility and accountability.
A father has a conflict with his seventeen year old son. The son wants to go away for the weekend with friends. There will be no adult supervision. When asked where he will be staying, he says probably on the beach or in a car. His Dad says those arrangements are unacceptable. One thing leads to another and the seventeen year old son storms out of the house. He says he s going anyway and leaves. He refuses to give his parents any contact information.
Out of sheer frustration and fear, his parents call the local precinct. A few minutes later, a squad car pulls up to their home. The parents explain all that took place to the officer. He explains that due to their son s age, the best he can do is take a report. He cannot seek him out and bring him home against his wishes. He can urge him to go home.
The officer does remind the parents that if their son should return home, they should let him in. Technically, there are responsible for taking care of him until he is twenty-one, even though he consistently defies them. Needless to say, they are not happy about the situation. It makes them feel so helpless and powerless.
JK is a freshman at a SUNY school upstate. He just turned eighteen. His parents were very concerned when he left for school that he was not emotionally and psychologically prepared to live on campus, roughly five hundred miles away from home.
He and his parents went to freshman orientation. His parents were impressed with the college tour and the code of conduct that all students were expected to comply with. The orientation leaders made it clear that underage drinking was totally unacceptable as a social behavior. They also indicated that they couldn t communicate directly with parents regarding academics or social behavior unless their son or daughter signed a letter of release giving the college permission.
By the middle of the fall semester, JK was failing three out of five classes due to excessive partying. During Thanksgiving break, his parents asked him how he was doing. He lied through his teeth and said great!
After the holidays, when his fall semester report card reached home, his parents asked to see it. The report card was addressed to him. Initially, when they asked to see it, he said no. After some back and forth conversation, he finally relented and showed them the report card. They were shocked. They were frustrated that the school did not contact them, especially since they were paying the tuition. Unfortunately, the law is clear in this regard. Parents have no rights.
TJ is a senior at one of our local high schools. He s a scholar and an athlete. He s well liked by his teachers and his friends. At the end of his junior year, TJ s social behavior started to change. He began hanging out with a different crowd on the weekends. His parents noticed that he was coming in after his curfew on an increasing number of evenings. On a couple of occasions, they suspected he was high. They confronted him and he vehemently denied it.
During the summer, his mother was cleaning his room and found all kinds of drug paraphernalia hidden away. She became alarmed. After she confronted him with the paraphernalia, he expressed minimal remorse. He said he didn t have a problem. However, he admitted to experimenting with heroin and a wide range of prescription drugs.
His parents became very alarmed. They felt he needed residential treatment. TJ vehemently opposed any kind of treatment. He was adamant that it was not a problem. Unfortunately, his parents felt he was out of control. They also felt helpless in trying to help him. No one would talk to them without his permission. He made it clear he wasn t interested.
His parents suffered silently as they watched their seventeen year old son rapidly deteriorate. No one seemed able to help them. They felt like they were watching their son die before their eyes.
A growing number of parents are trapped in the same social dilemma. Their children are out of control and are in need of desperate help, but are between the ages of sixteen and twenty. As the system stated, presently they cannot be forced to get help.
The best way to break this cycle of destruction is to work for civil legislation that will empower parents to parent their children no matter what the social circumstance.