Summer is upon us. Most people look forward to summer, except if they are the parents of teenagers. For most, no matter what our age, summer signifies the change in our regular routine. For adults that work, that means they may go from set daily hours to flex time; from dressing formally each day to dressing casually.
If you are of school age, it usually means no more school and a very free, casual schedule. That freedom and casualness becomes the challenge for many parents, especially those parenting teenagers.
Most teenagers believe that summer vacation marks the beginning of two months of freedom. They are very quick to define what that means to them. Simply put, they believe that they should be allowed to come and go as they please and do what they want, how they want and when they want. They further believe that their parents should not have any jurisdiction over their comings and goings. They really believe in their heart of hearts that they have earned the right to "do their own thing," and as parents, we do not have the right to question.
What parameters should summer vacation have or should it be a free-for-all? Summer is a refreshing respite from the fast pace of the school year, where we as parents are pulled in four million directions. Summer should be an opportunity to re-focus and recharge our batteries. For our children, it should be a break from the routine, but not a break from family or being responsible and accountable.
Unfortunately, for many families with teenagers and young adults living at home, summer vacation is two months of chaos and mayhem.
Many teenagers believe that once school is out, all parental jurisdiction and family rules are suspended. They feel they are mature enough to come and go as they please. They don't believe they should be accountable to anyone but themselves.
Ten years ago, one could make a case that only wild teens thought they were entitled to limitless freedom with no accountability. Today, unfortunately, there is no specific profile. Teens across the board want their freedom in every area.
They take the perspective that if they have worked hard during the school year, they should be free to play hard without parental interference.
A growing number of teens feel they have a wide range of social entitlements that they have earned, even if some of their social choices are not socially compliant to the law. Many "good kids" see nothing wrong with drinking and smoking weed, as long as it doesn't interfere with their objective responsibilities. They dismiss that both social practices are against the law if you are under twenty-one. Sadly, by their silence, many parents support this thinking.
We need summer rules. They should be more flexible then during the school year, but there should be some rules to live by.
Family life should not be suspended. Families should try to share a meal at least a few times a week. Not a meal on the fly or in front of the boob tube, but a sit down meal that lasts more than two minutes, where family members can actually talk to each other. Families should work on having some family time so everyone does not become like ships passing in the night.
Parents have the right to set a curfew. It should be flexible and reasonable, but their children should expect to be held accountable.
Be wary of sleepovers. Don't forbid them, but don't be fooled. Be sure your children are staying where they say they are, with the host families knowledge and permission. Also, be clear that you expect adult supervision to be present for the overnight. Letting teens in high school have a house for an overnight in the summer without supervision is a recipe for disaster.
It is not wrong to expect your teenager to come home by a certain time at night, be drug and alcohol free and be sleeping alone during summer vacation.
Most teenagers will balk at these parameters. However, if you are open to discussion, being flexible not rigid and being consistent in what you say and do, most teenagers will be reasonably compliant.
Our teenage and young adult children need to know that we expect accountability. It is a copout to hide behind the contemporary, irresponsible rhetoric, "they are going to do it anyway; it is part of their rite of passage; everybody is doing it."
A lot of teenagers act recklessly; some of that recklessness could be abated if parents were more consistent in holding their children accountable. We should not be afraid to say "no." It is not a dirty word, but is sometimes a necessary consequence when our children make poor decisions and dangerous choices.
CJ went to the senior prom with his best friend, who was a girl he went to school with since kindergarten. They were never romantically involved but were always best friends, like brother and sister.
Eight couples were going together in one of those stretch limousines. The prom weekend started at CJ's house. He was not happy because his mother would not provide any alcohol. Unfortunately, that was not the case at the other stops they made before arriving at the prom.
This particular high school searched all the limos. CJ's limo was clean. However, the prom goers were very clever. They stashed small bottles of vodka in some very creative places. A few of the participants, before they entered the prom, were pretty far-gone, but not enough to get snagged at the door.
CJ and company drank discretely all night. After the prom, they made arrangements to go out East. CJ lied to his mother and said he was staying at a friend's summer house and that it would be supervised.
Instead, one of the girls talked her father into renting a place for them for the weekend. He agreed to do so because the couples involved were all good kids from good families.
Their prom weekend was one big lost weekend. There was non-stop activity from the time they left to the weekend's end.
In the middle of this party extravaganza, on Saturday night at the house they rented, there were all sitting around, drinking and partying, laughing and remembering, when CJ and a couple of guys started fooling around.
The horseplay started innocently, but quickly escalated. Before they knew it, CJ and another senior were pushing and shoving. In this melee of activity, CJ fell backwards and hit his head. He lost consciousness.
The kids panicked. After a few attempts at CPR, they called 911. An ambulance arrived a few minutes later. At 9:30pm in the emergency room at Southampton Hospital, CJ was pronounced dead.
Unbeknownst to all of his friends, CJ developed a brain embolism due to the fall. That wonderful celebrating weekend abruptly ended in tragedy.
When CJ's Mom was contacted, she was devastated on two counts: first, CJ had lied about the events of the weekend. They didn't unfold as he said they would. Secondly, her firstborn son died senselessly because of a series of poor choices.
As parents, we need to support each other. We need to communicate with one another and not lose heart. We have the toughest job on the planet, but one of the most rewarding as we see our children grow and achieve great things.
Let us not be afraid to call our children to accountable and responsible living. It might just save one of their lives.