Peer pressure, decision-making and anxiety are all issues that the average teenager faces on a daily basis. Unfortunately, for some teenagers, these issues are much more disruptive and intrusive within their daily lives. The average teenager deals with peer pressure and anxiety like someone who changes their clothes multiple times a day. It's always an issue, but they manage.
On the other hand, there are those teenagers who allow peer pressure and anxiety to paralyze them. They're petrified to face each day and deal with all the pressure of day-to-day living. Some cope with the stress and pressure by drinking with friends or smoking weed. When confronted about these choices, they say it helps take the edge off things. Still others who express that their life is hard to manage will seek professional support through counseling and possibly even medication.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that tends to constantly judge others in a stigmatizing way if they choose counseling and supervised medication. Too many teenagers who are emotionally at risk balk at counseling and medication because of peer pressure and what the adult community has to say.
Stereotyping and categorizing people superficially is probably the greatest disservice we can do to another. No one likes to be judged by externals. We don't appreciate being stereotyped or being kicked to the curb by broad generalizations.
As adults, too often we make comments about young people that are unfair. If a teenager is into tattoos and body piercing and we find those social expressions unacceptable, we tend to make demeaning remarks that are totally uncalled for. What about the teenagers who have drug and alcohol problems and have gone off to rehab to get help? When they come home, some of these young people find that they are forced into social isolation because some of their friends' parents forbid them to associate with teenagers in recovery.
In both of these different circumstances, the adults involved judged by externals. They did not take the time to make the effort to get to know the young people involved. They used one brush to determine if these young people were socially acceptable. There was never a conversation about values and principles or any other real social interaction. And we wonder why prejudice and discrimination are rampant.
Unfortunately, in our culture, people can hide behind wealth, power and status. It is a sad commentary on our society that people of influence and abundance are quick to judge others and are blind to what is happening right in front of them. There are young people from wonderful families who are wrestling every day with peer pressure, positive decision-making and anxiety - and because of stereotyping and narrow-mindedness, they are not reaching out for positive support. Rather, they are self-medicating with the inappropriate use of street drugs, alcohol and prescription medication.
When the parents of some of these teenagers are confronted with some of these concerns, they quickly become defensive and make excuses. They claim their teenage son or daughter's drug or alcohol use is recreational and just part of every teenager's desire to experiment. Too often, it takes the tragic loss of life for adults to wake up, take the blinders off and face the truth.
This graduation season, there were countless parties that were out of control. Too many parents tolerated kegs of beer and beer pong being played in their own homes. They deluded themselves into believing that as long as they were supervising, what was so bad about a group of high school seniors toasting each other. They minimized the fact that they and all those underage were breaking the law. They also indirectly gave permission to other underage teenagers to drink in their homes. Some parents said yes to the parties, mainly because they were told that there would be adult supervision. Some of those very parents never thought for a moment that other parents would support underage drinking.
Few if any of those parties took into account that some of the underage drinkers might have been on medication and/or might have had other medical conditions that would clearly prohibit them from drinking any kind of alcohol. How many of us ever think of that when we have a party?
The other issue of concern is how many underage drinkers drove home after the party under the influence? At some parties that were geared to teenagers, parents did take the keys and make the partygoers stay overnight. However, I know two parties in particular that were supervised (loosely speaking), where no provisions were made for those who were driving. In both of those circumstances, two senior boys were drinking all day and drove home. One made it home without incident. The other did not. He misjudged a curve in the road, hit a tree and totaled his car.
Thankfully, he was unhurt and no one else was injured. He called his parents and they rescued him and his car before the police were called. Hopefully, this senior learned his lesson. His circumstance could have played out so radically differently. Instead of going to the beach with his friends the next day, they could have all been attending his wake and funeral.
Whether he learned his lesson or not, time will tell. Unfortunately, too many of his peers believe they are invincible and that tragedy will never touch them. A growing number of parents are nave and believe their children are above reproach. My firsthand experience and my knowledge of human behavior negate those two perspectives.
Everyone wants to have fun and most of us enjoy a good party. However, we need to ask the question, why do a growing number of young adults need to be so wasted to have a good time? Why is it necessary to be out of control, buzzed or stoned to have fun?
A growing number of teenagers indicate that they need a social lubricant to take the edge off social anxiety. They're not comfortable hanging out with their peers in their own skin. Too many high school students indicate that they are very self-conscious of what others think of them, especially their peers.
Those intense feelings of self-doubt are used to justify what many teenagers call social drinking and smoking. They believe it is their medication that helps lighten them up so they can be more social with their friends.
This social anxiety and other social stressors among our high school students are much more intense and troubling than most of us realize. Unbeknownst to most of you, in your own little circle of life you know at least one or two high school students who are at risk. They wear a plastic smile, do all the right things and say all the right things, but they are like little time bombs ready to explode!
For a growing number of our young people, the pressure they feel in school, at home, in the workplace and among their friends is unbearable. They quietly admit that they lack the social skills to cope and to navigate life's complicated landscape. Too often, they feel they have nowhere to turn and no one who understands them. So, they shut down and turn inward.
The young people I am speaking about are not fringe people, but unfortunately are part of the mainstream. He or she could be anyone's son or daughter. They are bright and not so bright, athletic and not so athletic; they are in the in-group and the out-group; they don't have a particular color, class or religion. They are all around us, but unfortunately, at times we are too blind to see them.
If you have a son or a daughter who is isolating out, shutting down and possibly overmedicating him or her self with drugs or alcohol, you may have a son or daughter who is at risk. Don't be afraid to call the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (516-869-4215). If you feel the danger of someone hurting him or her self is imminent, take him or her to the nearest emergency room. If they resist, call 911 for assistance.
The problem is real! Between 1997 and 2007, according to Yvonne Milewski, Suffolk County's Medical Examiner, an average of two people a week in Suffolk County killed themselves. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students and the third leading cause of death among those between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four.
We all need to be more attentive! Our teenagers are depending on it.