Integrity - what does this word really mean? It is synonymously used with the concept of being moral. For the purpose of this conversation, I would like to define integrity as a significant quality that shapes one's moral compass. It shapes a person's positive vision for the world. Philosophically, in general, it relates to character and how a person acts in the world. It's a virtue that empowers one to be honest, respectful of difference and diversity and to act responsibly in all of life's circumstances. Personal integrity usually defines the substance of a human being.
Personal integrity is compromised every time a person makes a reckless decision and puts their life or the lives of others in jeopardy. A single mom who has an impeccable personal history makes a poor choice after a few glasses of wine to get in the car with her twelve year old son. She is stopped and arrested for driving while intoxicated. After she's arraigned, CPS is called and her son is temporarily removed from her home.
On her own energy, she immediately began outpatient treatment. She engaged the services of a personal therapist. She made the decision to be abstinent from all alcohol. From her perspective, the arrest was a wake up call. She needed to deal with her personal stress in a different way.
Unfortunately, the system is understaffed and her case is not a priority. It has been almost two months since her arrest. She still has not seen a caseworker. All of her pro-activity was done on her own. It was not mandated or even recommended. She initiated treatment because she wants to act responsibly and have her son returned to her home and her care as soon as possible.
Clearly, this single mom is taking responsibility for her poor decision making and is willing to be held fully accountable. However, her son, who is the victim in this case, is being unreasonably punished because he is being kept out of his home and away from his friends.
Recently, a Smithtown man admitted in a Riverhead courtroom to viciously stabbing to death a seventy year old grandmother with her own kitchen knife. He then tried to kill his friend, her grandson, after breaking into the house in an attempt to steal heroin.
The young man who murdered the grandmother was twenty-one years old. He was in the throes of heroin withdrawal when he committed the crimes he pled to. He accepted a sentence of thirty-five years to life in prison without the possibility of parole until he was fifty-six years of age.
Everything about this case is heart wrenching: the murder of an innocent grandmother, the attempted murder of a grandson and the conviction of a twenty-one year old, who for all practical purposes has no life in the future.
The twenty-one year old did not fall out of bed and become a heroin addict overnight. He learned this behavior in the community where he grew up. When he was not high on heroin, he was a young man of integrity. He had principles and values and wanted to make something positive of his life.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, he got sidetracked. He was convinced by social peer pressure that snorting or shooting heroin was okay. Everybody does it and most people live without consequences. What he probably didn't realize, because he's young and probably believes he's invincible, is that heroin is lethal. If it doesn't kill you physically, it steals your soul. The craving becomes so unbearable that you are willing to compromise everything, even life itself, to get your fix and sustain your high.
What most people who read this column don't realize is that heroin is not merely a problem for the poor living in marginal communities, but rather it is an epidemic problem among our middle and upper middle class young people, right here in our own larger community.
Heroin is available on every high school campus on the North Shore. We would be shocked at the number of high school juniors and seniors that have tried snorting heroin as part of their social behavior. If you listen to your children, this issue is not going away, but getting worse every day.
Hopefully, the guilty plea of the twenty-one year old who stabbed an innocent grandmother might be a wake up call for all of us to be more attentive to what our children are doing with their free time during the week and on weekends.
As a parent, do you know what your children are doing with their free time? Do you check on them from time to time to be sure that they are being honest about their social plans? When your teenage son or daughter asks to stay overnight at someone's house, do you call the parents to be sure that appropriate supervision will be present during the overnight? Do you ask questions about alcohol being available to underage drinkers?
Many of us have a hard time with these kinds of questions because our children immediately accuse us of being untrusting. When we are challenged, some of us compromise our integrity and back down or don't ask. Others will ask halfheartedly and sidestep the hard questions. A small number of us will ask the hard questions and, if we don't like the answers, will not allow our children to participate.
Needless to say, most teenagers hate "no!" They will take the tack and accuse us of not trusting them. Some of us will fall for that manipulation. Hopefully, most of us will see it for what it is and respond by reminding our children that we are responsible for their well-being, especially when their lives might be in jeopardy because of the poor social choices of others.
Summer vacation is fast approaching. It is supposed to be a time for recharging our batteries, slowing down, relaxing and enjoying a more laid back existence. For most of our children, no matter what their age, it is a time for lax curfews, greater freedoms, more social interaction with friends and less pressure.
For a growing number of teenagers and college students, summer vacation is becoming more like an extended lost weekend! Too many young people want freedom without responsibility. They want to come and go as they please and do as little as possible. They do not want to be held accountable to anyone.
Some young adults genuinely believe they are entitled to freedom without responsibility. They believe they should be allowed to come and go as they please, even if it means staying out all night. They don't believe that all of our social norms apply to them. Going to a keg party and drinking recklessly at age seventeen is not a big deal, especially if you don't drink and drive. It doesn't matter to some that it is against the law and that their parents may disapprove.
Some teenagers genuinely believe it is their right to drink and smoke pot, even though it's against the law for those under twenty-one. They will argue that those are personal choices they have the right to make, especially if they are willing to take the consequences.
Summer vacation should not be an extended lost weekend for our students. It shouldn't be reform school either. Somehow, parents and children should find a middle ground. Children should be able to enjoy the natural freedom of summer, but still be respectful, responsible and accountable in their decision making and behavior.
To achieve that balance and middle ground, parents and children need to effectively communicate with one another. Parents need to act with integrity and not be afraid to set reasonable parameters for their children to live within. Children have to try to understand why some sanctions are imposed and what the consequences could be for blatant non-compliance.
Life is fragile and too short. None of us are invincible. We need to protect one another from all kinds of reckless behavior, even in the summertime!