Summer vacation is upon us. It's a hot, muggy Monday night. It is 2:00am in the morning. You hear a horrible crashing sound that wakes you up from a sound sleep. Do you know where your teenage children are?
That crashing sound causes you to get up from your bed and rush around to check on your children. In the few minutes it takes to reach their rooms, you have a severe panic attack. For a brief moment, you experience every parent's nightmare - the senseless loss of a child.
As you open the doors to their rooms, you breathe a sigh of relief - your son and daughter are sound asleep. You go over, touch their foreheads and realize this terrible nightmare is just a bad dream. You go back to bed.
Unfortunately, for a growing number of parents, this nightmare is not just a bad dream. Parenting teenagers on a good day is a challenge. During the summer, it is often a painful and stressful time.
Teenagers rebel against most structures and restrictions. During the summer months, their rebellious voices are the loudest. Most middle school and high school age young people think they are invincible. They believe they are experienced in the ways of the world and are clear, responsible decision makers.
More and more teenagers believe that if they are good students during the school year and are reasonably respectful and responsible, they should be exempt from rules and restrictions. Restrictive parameters are only for the wild and reckless.
A growing number of parents have a hard time setting reasonable curfews for teenage socializing, because few adults can agree on what is reasonable. Should teenagers be allowed to write their own curfew during the summer? Is 1:00am or 2:00am a reasonable time for a fourteen or fifteen year old to come home? Is that a reasonable time for a seventeen year old?
What constitutes hanging out? Fooling around in a friend's car? Building a bonfire on a local beach? Drinking beers at a local park? Many teenagers see nothing wrong with any of this behavior, as long as everyone acts responsibly - even if you're breaking the law by drinking underage, driving around on a junior license and hanging out at a park that closes at dusk.
What about teenage parties, sleepovers and hanging out at friends' houses? Should parents or some reasonable adult be home? Most teens would object to that kind of supervision. They become combative if you indicate that you want to call the parent of said party and tell them that half of the known world will be stopping by.
No matter how mature a teenager is, they lack the life experience to handle the endless calamities that could erupt on any given night in an unsupervised teenage party or sleepover.
Talk to the parents who have been talked into surrendering their home for a night and/or weekend to their teenage children for them to hang out and party. More often than not, when they've returned home they found their home trashed, looted and everything in between.
In this day and age, it is irresponsible to have a teenage party and/or sleepover without adult supervision. Even with supervision, adults get talked into tolerating potentially lethal behavior.
This past prom and graduation season, how many parents tolerated or even more troubling, cooperated with underage drinking, even though it is against the law?
Some parents justified their behavior with attitudes like this: "They are going to do it anyway; at least they are safe in my house." Or my favorite: "I'll take their keys and not let them leave."
Last year, at a graduation party where adults permitted underage drinking, an intoxicated seventeen year old left the party in a rage and ended up being shot and killed. The drinking was tolerated by adults and no one tried to stop the young man from leaving.
This year a parent tolerated drinking after the prom. After the senior prom, a senior boy invited a dozen friends to spend the night at his house at an after prom party. Tents were set up in the backyard. The plan was for all the guests to sleep outside. The Mom agreed to this arrangement because she feared these high school coeds would be drinking. She thought it would be safer to let them sleep in her backyard then to let them drive home in the early morning hours.
Before the prom began, the Mom hosting the post-prom party told her son she would not tolerate liquor or beer being brought on her property. She was adamant that that kind of social behavior was unacceptable, especially on prom night.
Her son's friends started to arrive a little after midnight. The host parent noticed that the young guests were sneaking in cases of beer and hard alcohol. She was unhappy. She confronted her son and wanted all those with alcohol to leave. She indicated that a number of parents called to verify that it was okay for their children to sleep over, that the party was being supervised and that no alcohol would be served. He said if she confiscated the alcohol and asked people to leave the party would be destroyed because no one would want to stay.
Her compromise was that they would stay outside and she would not actively seek out guests who were drinking underage. The crowd was relatively well behaved. A couple of young people overindulged. By 4:00am, everyone was sleeping.
Unbeknownst to the Mom hosting the party, one of the seniors who over drank aspirated in his sleep and never woke up. That boy did not have the chance to receive his diploma at graduation. There are no pictures with his parents celebrating his academic achievement. The parents of the boy who died in the backyard were one of a handful of parents who called to make sure the party was going to be supervised by an adult and that no alcohol was going to be permitted!
The host parent was in a really tough spot the night of the party. She knew that high school seniors were drinking, but chose not to intervene so as not to disrupt her son's last big bash. She got to hug her son at graduation and pose for pictures. Another family was denied that opportunity.
What are groups of thirteen and fourteen year olds doing driving around town with an eighteen year old at 2:00am in the morning? Did the parents of those middle school children know where they were? Did the kids in question communicate with their families before the tragic accident that claimed a life? An inexperienced teenage driver decided to blow through a stop sign and now a fourteen year old who was not wearing a seatbelt is dead!
How many senseless teenage deaths will it take for us as parents to stand up, step out and say no more, and begin to do something about all this recklessness? As a community, we should be outraged every time someone dies because of recklessness, especially when they are teenagers.
We should seriously reconsider resurrecting the old partnership that parents shared with each other and the larger community, a partnership that put the lives of our children as the number one priority. Everyone was committed to protecting that quality of life and challenging everyone in the larger community to be more accountable.
If our young people are our national treasure, then we should begin treating them that way!
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