Over the last few weeks we have heard story after story dealing with teenage recklessness. A college student in Plattsburg died while pledging for a non-sanctioned fraternity. Countless high school girls were hospitalized in Illinois after an annual hazing ritual. Fifteen varsity baseball players were suspended from school for visiting a strip club, using fake ID and drinking while on a school baseball trip.
These stories are the latest to make the nightly news exploiting the poor behavior of a small, but growing number of teenagers. None of the teenagers involved in the incidents mentioned ever intended for anyone to be hurt or their school and/or family name to be shamed.
Unfortunately, more than that happened, even the senseless loss of a college student's life. A college coed is dead before he even had a chance to live. His family is forever shattered. Those college students involved with his death are forever shackled with that horrific memory of a college prank gone terribly wrong.
As I have listened to students and parents alike talk about these episodes and many other wild teenage adventures, the constant theme I have heard espoused is blame. Everyone seems to be blaming everyone else. No one seems to want to be accountable for the poor choices made in each of these circumstances.
The common scapegoat is the school community. Whether it is the college or high school community, they are the easiest to blame. So many have accused our schools of being lax, of not enforcing the student conduct codes and not holding the students accountable for the choices they make.
Many schools and colleges could be stricter in enforcing the parameters of the student code of conduct. However, it is very difficult to hold students accountable for any code of conduct if parents are not going to cooperate.
If a student comes to school drunk or is caught with pot and his or her parent is not available and does not contact the school for forty-eight hours, it is hard to hold up a code of conduct to be respected.
It is very frightening for school administrators who try to create and support a positive campus environment, when parents undermine the "code" or the school's expectations. Some parents allow teenage drinking or tolerate it. Other parents see nothing wrong with pot and even smoke it with their kids. These circumstances may seem wild to some of you, but unfortunately they are more commonplace than many want to acknowledge.
Disciplining a high school student who is blatantly in non-compliance to school policy is an exercise in futility if parents are not in concert with school directives and discipline expectations.
How does one minimize poor decision making to the level of "boys will be boys" or "it is a rite a teenage passage into adulthood," when a student dies and other students are seriously injured, not to mention all the laws that are blatantly broken?
What message are we giving young people in general? It is okay to disrespect the law and live recklessly as long as you don't get caught. If you get caught, if you are "somebody" maybe you will be treated with leniency or not be held accountable at all.
It is easy to blame others for our poor decisions. What about the students involved in this dangerous behavior? What about their parents?
When is a parent of a young adult under twenty-one excused from parenting their child? Should parents be accountable for teenage keg parties held in their homes with or without their supervision?
What about the unauthorized sleepovers that end up in many lost weekends and lots of property damage? What about the fifteen-year-old left home alone for a few days while his parents are vacationing who takes their expensive car out without a license? What if he is driving recklessly, is under the influence, and wrecks the car and cripples an innocent adult coming home from work?
Who should be responsible for all of this? Who should be held accountable? What should the consequences be?
Recently I was talking to a business owner in lower Port Jefferson. He was very upset. He chased a group of local high school coeds from his property. They were engaged in behaviors that he was uncomfortable mentioning. I asked him how he knew they were local high school kids. He said many of the boys were wearing local high school sports jackets. When they ran, they tried to hide their high school logos.
The question this businessman/father raised was why were these local high school guys and girls hanging out downtown in the middle of the night? Where were their parents? Where did their parents think they were?
Unfortunately, many good kids are less than honest. How many of us call to verify sleepovers and the fact that they will be supervised? How many of us make our juniors and seniors check in when they come home? Maybe an even better question is how many parents set a curfew for their high school students?
If one were to listen to our kids, they would try to convince us that most families don't have curfews for high school students and that the average high school junior and senior does what he or she pleases.
As a community, I think we need to reclaim our children. We have to stop making excuses and holding other people responsible for the choices our children make. Our children need to be held accountable and face the consequences of their choices.
Parenting is not a part-time job. For better or worse, it lasts forever.