The Teenage Underground

The teenage underground - how many parents of high school students are aware of the teenage underground? Some who are reading this column are probably asking what is it? It's a network of teenagers that ...

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The teenage underground - how many parents of high school students are aware of the teenage underground? Some who are reading this column are probably asking what is it? It's a network of teenagers that do a variety of things to support their peers. Many of the things they do are illegal.

If a teenager needs a false identification, he/she might contact a teenager in the underground who can get that identification pretty quickly. The underground is also very helpful in helping teenagers to obtain prescription drugs and other illegal substances for personal use and distribution. It is also a network that will provide housing for teenagers who are homeless, and/or runaways.

Locally, our teenage underground is pretty sophisticated. This network can provide a teenager with almost anything he or she desires. Yes, it is costly, but unfortunately, many of our teens have access to too much money with little or no accountability.

Probably of greatest concern is the underground that gives shelter to teenage runaways. More often than most of us realize, when a teenager leaves his or her home, he or she usually has a variety of places to stay temporarily. Many of these temporary arrangements are made without parental consent. A teenager will sneak a friend in after his or her parents are asleep. The unexpected guest usually sleeps in an area of the house where parents would be least likely to discover him or her.

The same underground will sponsor parties at homes while the parents are away. They're very clever. They usually aren't wild parties, but rather subdued, and they make sure they leave the house that is used immaculate. The only give away that someone was in the house is that the alcohol supply is usually substantially depleted.

Now that summer is here, parents should be concerned about their teenagers sneaking out after they've gone to bed. Many teenagers are very skilled at getting over on their parents. Also, parents should be concerned about the family cars being used without permission in the middle of the night. There has been a substantial increase in local car accidents with cars being driven by unauthorized teenagers without licenses in the early hours of the morning.

As parents, we want to trust our children, and we should. However, we still need to hold our children accountable. Human nature being what it is, people lie and manipulate the truth. Our teenagers are not beyond being dishonest.

Some parents believe it's the rite of passage to adulthood for teenagers to drink recklessly, smoke a little pot and sneak out of the house. I don't think it's the rite of passage, but rather teenage behavior that has become dangerous. It is a real error in judgment, to think that reckless teenage decision-making is only a phase. For some that might be true, but unfortunately, based on the hard-core facts of life in our own community that is not the case for the majority of our teenagers.

As parents, we need to be more diligent. That does not mean overbearing or controlling. Being diligent means being more attentive to your children's social behavior and their social cues.

JK is going into his senior year of high school. He is a scholar athlete, and the eldest of four brothers and sisters. He comes from an intact family. He would tell you he has a great relationship with his parents. His parents would agree.

At the beginning of his junior year, JK started to change. After football season, he had a part-time job at a popular local restaurant. On the weekends after his shift, he and his coworkers would go out. They were a little older, and didn't have curfews. He did, but his parents were flexible and wanted to support what they thought were positive social choices. His coworkers seemed like great kids, and they were.

However, what his parents did not know is that these great kids were engaged in some troubling social behavior. They were all old enough to drink, but JK wasn't. After work, they would go to local pubs and bars that were not strict regarding proofing people. All of JK s friends were old enough to drink. JK looked 21, even though he was only 17, so he was rarely proofed. In addition to drinking, there was a lot of recreational drug use that JK was exposed to. He started to engage in some of that behavior.

Prior to this job, he never smoked pot. Now he was smoking every day unbeknown to his parents. His mood started to change. He constantly had the munchies. His parents saw some of this, but chalked it off to adolescence and the transition from junior year to senior year in high school.

He started to stay out later and later on the weekends, and when his parents confronted him, he always had a plausible excuse to cover the real truth of where he was.

A few months ago, he came home early from work and said he wasn't feeling well. He went to bed. He waited for his parents to go to bed. He snuck out, took the family car and caught up with his coworkers who were at a local bar. He drank and smoked to the early hours of the morning and made the fatal mistake under the influence to drive home.

His rationale was that he only lived a few blocks away. He could make it without incident. Unfortunately, that didn't work. He was two blocks from his house, driving rather erratically. He took a turn at excessive speed, lost control of the car and hit a tree.

JK almost lost his life that night. He spent 10 days in intensive care, and is presently still on the mend from injuries suffered from the senseless car accident. He did come clean with his parents regarding his poor decision-making, relative to his social life. His parents were overwhelmed that they missed so much. They realized after the fact that even though J. K. is a wonderful son they need to be more vigilant and diligent as parents.