The Delicate Walk of Parenting

The Community Alliance of Northern Brookhaven recently sponsored an evening for parents and community members on issues relative to teenage drinking and drug use. The Alliance did an excellent job of putting together a panel ...

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The Community Alliance of Northern Brookhaven recently sponsored an evening for parents and community members on issues relative to teenage drinking and drug use. The Alliance did an excellent job of putting together a panel of experts in the areas of law enforcement, criminal justice and probation. These professionals gave up an evening to field any and all questions that might have been raised.

Unfortunately, only one parent and one teenager were in attendance. Members of the Alliance were there, a school district administrator and the high school principal, a member of the Brookhaven Youth Bureau and a few other community members. One could say that the forum was poorly attended due to the time of year, the day of the week or possibly not enough advertisement.

Candidly, I believe they are shallow excuses. No matter when this forum might have been planned for, attendance at best would be poor. Teenage social behavior is not a priority unless there is a tragedy. Had there been a tragedy in our community, there would not be an auditorium large enough to hold the people that would want to be in attendance.

Why do we have to wait for a tragedy before we look at more effective ways to protect our children and our families? Too often we take a crisis management approach to teenage social behavior. Unless we are faced with a tragedy or a potential tragedy, we tend to sidestep the delicate issues that every parent of a teenager must confront today.

It is the end of the school year and the beginning of summer vacation - every parent's nightmare. As a parent, how are you going to handle the end of the year parties, graduation and the senior prom? What about curfew for your older teenagers and those who just graduated from high school?

Many of our high school seniors still don't get the picture! The attitude is, as long as we act responsibly and don't drink and drive, what's the problem with a couple of beers and mixed drinks at a party? That question is further complicated by parents who give permission for keg parties at graduation or have taken the position to quietly tolerate drinking at these events. They justify their position when confronted by saying, "we take their car keys and don't allow them to drive." They further indicate that they're going to drink anyway and we would rather keep them safe than force them to drink in unsafe environments.

Parenting on a good day is a challenging adventure. The end of every school year, especially with seniors graduating, is a nightmare. You want to celebrate with your children, you want to celebrate their achievements and acknowledge their growth and maturity. However, as a parent, you do not want to compromise your principles and values to support your son or daughter's social choices. It is a very delicate walk you take. Setting up clear parameters, at times, will be painful. Sometimes you will feel very alone because even good neighbors and friends will not have the courage to make the right decisions on behalf of their children.

If being your son or daughter's best friend is your top priority, be prepared for disaster. Your role as a parent is not to be best friends with your teenage son or daughter, but rather to be a mentor and a guide as your son or daughter attempts to navigate life's difficult course.

Most young people think they are invincible. They believe they are skilled in the art of decision-making and that they truly know their limits. Many young people are skilled in appropriate decision-making and do know their limits. What they don't know, due to lack of experience, are the pitfalls and detours that life can put in their way. So, in simple terms, we cannot always predict what others might choose to do that could impact on our lives.

Every day we hear another tragic story of an innocent person being victimized because of the reckless decision making of another. No one is invincible or immortal. Life for all of us is fragile, no matter how strong we think we are.

As parents, we need to move beyond our fear and make some hard choices when it comes to our children's social behavior. It is unconscionable in this present climate to tolerate underage drinking, even with parental or adult supervision. Quite simply, it is against the law.

It is not appropriate at pre or post prom parties to spike the punch or allow seniors to have a champagne toast. Those parents still making arrangements for graduation and prom parties should not be boxed into a corner. Some of our seniors will say, "no one will come if you don't serve or tolerate alcohol."

This would not even be an issue if all senior parents agreed to support each other and not tolerate underage drinking, unsupervised beach parties or unsupervised weekends out East.

Why would anyone want to blemish graduation and prom season with a tragedy? If we are not proactive now, we are setting the stage for disaster to occur. No parent who tolerates underage drinking wants a tragedy to occur. Unfortunately, the risk factor is exceptionally high since we cannot control a variety of social factors that are present at every party.

We all want our graduating seniors to be self-reliant and progressively independent. However, they are not full-grown adults, but rather young adults in progress. They still need guidance, support and at times, firm direction when it comes to social decision-making.

As parents, we need to be in concert with our schools and our communities, especially when it comes to teenage social behavior. Our first approach should not be to make excuses and protect our children from the social choices they make. They should be held accountable.

At this time of year, we should be prepared that local law enforcement are going to be diligent in enforcing the legal drinking age; that neighborhoods will be heavily patrolled with the large concentration of teenagers around prom season and graduation and that parents will be held accountable if they tolerate illegal behavior on their premises.

An area private high school had a meeting for all senior parents and students. At this meeting, the principal very clearly outlined the expected behavior for the senior prom and the days before graduation. He made it clear that if a student came to the prom intoxicated or under the influence of an illegal substance, he or she would not be permitted to walk at commencement. He made it abundantly clear that the earned diploma would be mailed to the graduating senior. He was very clear that no one would be exempt from this school policy. He also indicated that if there were any episodes of illegal drinking or drug use on school grounds before graduation, the student involved would not be permitted to participate.

After the principal outlined this policy, he gave each senior a document with all of the points of the policy. Each senior and his or her parents are expected to sign it. He made it clear that he had every intention of implementing this policy to its' fullest extent. He did express that he hoped he would not have to implement the policy because every senior would make positive choices on prom night and before graduation.

Unfortunately, a very popular senior boy, who was very active on campus, came to the prom intoxicated. His parents were called to pick him up and were told that he could not walk for graduation. Initially, they protested. The principal showed them the document that they and their son signed. They still pleaded with him, but realized that they had no choice but to comply.

As of this writing, he will not be walking at graduation. His diploma will be mailed along with the two awards he was to receive at commencement. His senior year did not have to end this way!