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Are Parents Afraid to Parent?

It is five o'clock in the afternoon. Do you know where your children are? More and more teenagers have access, for better or for worse, to cell phones. Therefore, there is no excuse for parents ...

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It is five o'clock in the afternoon. Do you know where your children are? More and more teenagers have access, for better or for worse, to cell phones. Therefore, there is no excuse for parents not to know where their children are and what their children are doing. Unfortunately, even with improved technology and better communication tools, communication between parents and children is still, at best, rather poor.

Why is communication so poor between parents and children? Why are a growing number of parents afraid to demand communication from their teenage children regarding where they are going and what they are doing?

Whether teenagers like it or not, parents are responsible for their children until they are twenty-one. They have the right and the obligation to set certain parameters and expect certain behavioral responses from their children. Parenting is not a part time responsibility, it's a full-time job.

Too many parents are afraid to parent. They want to be their teenage son or daughter's best friend rather than their parent. Surviving teenage hood on a good day is a challenge. Our teenagers do not need us as pals. They need us to guide, to nurture and to support them through the difficult landscape of teenage living.

Teenage decision-making is probably the most challenging skill a teenager has to develop during adolescence and young adulthood. Teenage hood does not come with a universal manual for living. Every teenager's life is unique. The challenges he or she faces are unique to his or her own life. It is part of our parental responsibility to help our children develop the tools and the skills needed to face those challenges with courage and responsibility.

Reckless decision-making is infecting communities everywhere. Teenagers as well as adults are guilty of poor decision-making. It does not help a high school teenager to have a parent who does not hold him or her accountable for the choices he or she makes. Life is not a free pass. With every choice we make, there is a consequence we must face. Rescuing our high school son or daughter from those consequences is only enabling destructive decision-making and behavior.

Ideally, parents should begin nurturing mutual communication early on in a child's development. As a parent, you should try to create a climate that invites open conversation about anything and everything. Your son or daughter should never feel that they cannot approach you with an issue, no matter how delicate it might be.

If communication breaks down and our son or daughter stops communicating, we run the risk of creating an invisible wall that will only encourage greater distance between parent and child.

Every parent wants his or her son or daughter to become self-reliant and responsible. However, let us not confuse self-reliance with parental indifference. It's hard to keep tabs on your teenage child. They seem to be running an endless marathon in four million directions. It's hard to keep up, but it's imperative that we try!

Do you know who your son or daughter's friends are? Have you met their parents? Do you know where they live? When your children ask for an overnight, before you say yes do you call the other family to verify that they are going to be home to supervise your son or daughter? If the answer is no, what is your position on the overnight?

If your son or daughter is going to a teenage party, do you verify that the party will be supervised by adults? If they say yes, do you also ask whether or not alcohol will be permitted? Sounds very rudimentary. However, many of us would be shocked at how many parents are clueless when it comes to the questions I have just raised.

More and more parents have no idea what their kids do after school and on weekends. Some parents who do ask are blatantly lied to and don't realize it because they never follow up on what their kids tell them. Other parents, who do follow up, find out that their teenage children will not be supervised, but they let it slide. They don't want to hassle with their son or daughter. They take the position that their children will act responsibly in these potentially volatile situations and they leave it at that.

Needless to say, that is a recipe for disaster. No teenager sets out to get into trouble at a teenage party. However, even with supervision, teenage parties are oftentimes difficult. Without adult supervision, they tend to be disastrous. Just check with your local police station.

It's graduation season, prom season and the beginning of summer. There are parties in abundance. A growing number of these parties will be unsupervised and the drugs and alcohol will flow like water. Unfortunately, many of the parties that will be supervised by parents and/or adults will tolerate drug and alcohol use by underage teenagers.

Some parents will take the position that it's a special occasion; that they are going to drink anyway. So, it is better that they drink with supervision. They also believe that it is a rite of passage from teenage hood to adulthood. They made it unscathed, so why wouldn't their teenage children make it!

There is also a growing philosophical position among parents that espouses that there is nothing wrong with underage drinking in moderation and recreational pot use. Thus, those who support that point of view have no problem with that kind of social behavior under their supervision.

However, the majority position still supports complying with state law. The state law is clear. Any abuse of street drugs, prescription pills and marijuana is against the law. In all fifty states, it is against the law to drink and possess alcohol if you are less than twenty-one years of age. To date, there are no exceptions or amendments to that law.

Recently, there has been much talk around a new bill that would increase the penalties for those who while under the influence cause serious harm or death to someone. In some other jurisdictions around our state, there is legislation being proposed to hold parents accountable if they serve and/or tolerate underage drinking within their supervision.

Again, reckless decision making, especially under the influence of drugs and alcohol, is unconscionable. However, extended punishment without treatment is only a temporary band-aid on an epidemic problem.

If we look at most of the high profile cases where people were seriously injured or killed by a drunk driver, it is clear that the drunk driver in most cases had a pre-existing alcohol problem that was not being addressed. The pre-existing problem is not an excuse for the reprehensible decision making that injured or took someone's life, but rather is a social indicator that the issue is much more serious than putting offenders in jail.

At some point, those offenders will leave jail probably more bitter than when they entered. Without treatment, they will probably run the risk of re-offending and possibly hurting or taking another life. Treatment is not a guarantee, but at least it is a positive step toward addressing a serious social problem that has become epidemic among all age groups.

Since the mid-80's, there have been countless laws passed regarding the misuse and abuse of alcohol and drugs, as well as underage drinking. The problem is that many of these laws are useless because they are not universally and fairly applied. If we enforced the laws already on the books and took a more preventative rather than punitive approach, we might protect our larger community from the reckless and dangerous decision making of a few.

The problem around illegal drug and alcohol use is not only a parent problem, it is a community problem. Consistent enforcement and accountability is lacking in every quarter. From teenage athletes who are not held accountable to corporate professionals who plea bargain their drunk driving offenses because of good legal representation to the underage teenager on the street who gets caught with a case of beer and is not penalized - we give the message that it's okay to break the law; the consequences will be minimal or nonexistent. That attitude and social practice costs innocent people their lives.