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Teenagers At Risk

Parenting is more complicated and painful then it ever was before. Raising children has never been an easy feat. However, twenty or thirty years ago, the landscape was very different. Teenagers have always been a ...

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Parenting is more complicated and painful then it ever was before. Raising children has never been an easy feat. However, twenty or thirty years ago, the landscape was very different. Teenagers have always been a challenge, since the beginning of time. They believe they're invincible. They love adventure and stretching the limits whenever they can - that's part of being a teenager.

It's hard to believe that in twenty years the social environment that our children are growing up in has changed so radically. Technology has made so much available at the tap of a key. Many of the things that children are exposed to in the present moment are potentially lethal. More troubling is that they lack the skills and the insight to navigate this rather complicated course.

In the 1980's, high school and college students increased their social drinking and some began to experiment with street drugs such as marijuana and angel dust. The students who made many of those choices tended to be among the fringe. They did not constitute the mainstream high school and college age students.

Today, at every party this weekend, students from every social group will have the opportunity to drink, smoke weed, experiment with certain street drugs and have access to prescription medications. No longer is risky decision making engaged in by a small number of students, but rather is infecting every social group.

A growing number of college and high school age students feel it is their right to make their own social choices, even if there are potentially lethal risks involved. Too many students see no risk in underage drinking, smoking weed and trying other potentially dangerous drugs.

The prevalent attitude is that as long as they are good kids, do well in school and are respectful at home, what is the big deal? Many students will argue the point that if we are safe and don't drive under the influence, who's going to get hurt? They rarely factor into the equation their lack of experience and the potentially reckless behavior of others. They also don't realize what they might be doing to their physical health. Every person's metabolism is different and everyone's tolerance of drugs and alcohol is different.

When you think of a teenager at risk, what kind of image comes to mind? What's the teenager's profile? What kind of family did he or she come from? What kind of neighborhood did the young person grow up in?

Unless we are battling with a teenager at risk, most of us probably stereotype a troubled teenager. The picture we create in our minds is a young person out of control, who is oppositionally defiant; a teenager who is probably from a broken home and comes from a poor socioeconomic background. Many of us probably characterize kids at risk as coming from dysfunctional families where there is no parental supervision.

What we have painfully learned in recent times is that teenagers at risk have no particular profile. They live in every family system imaginable. They are struggling in every community across the country. The hard part is that too many of us are blind to how troubled they really are.

No one wants to believe that their son or daughter is at risk or is engaged in reckless and lethal behavior. When our kids first get caught drinking beer on a weekend, we want to believe it is merely a rite of passage - a phase that all kids go through. Some parents dismiss it; other parents become more vigilant, but want to believe it's only an isolated episode of teenage growing up. The reality of life is that more often than not, it's not an episode but rather a part of their social behavior.

What is more troubling is that teenage acting out and poor decision making is not beginning in high school, but rather, it is starting in middle school. A growing number of middle school parents have become alarmed with recent surveys that have indicated an increasing number of middle school students are experimenting with drugs, alcohol and sex.

As you can see, the parenting landscape is very complicated. What some parents, who are concerned about their teenage children's social behavior and decision making are realizing is that many of their neighbors weigh teenage decision making differently.

For example, many parents see nothing wrong with reasonable teenage social drinking. Other parents equally view smoking weed as harmless. There are also parents that view teenage supervision differently. They don't feel the need for a curfew. They live with their teenagers driving illegally with junior licenses. They don't feel compelled to verify sleepovers. More often than not, they have no problem with leaving their teenage children at home for a long weekend unsupervised.

In an ideal world, we would all love to trust our teenage children with responsibility, honesty and the capacity to make positive decisions. Unfortunately, we live in an imperfect world where peer pressure more often than not is infectious. Not just among teenagers, but among us as adults.

Recently, we read with horror the tragic story of a senior in high school who died senselessly right before graduation at a teenage party. Initially, it was thought that her death was caused by excessive alcohol. We later learned that it was due to a heroin overdose.

The young, eighteen year old senior was a good student, from a wonderful middle class family who was planning to go off to college after graduation. Weeks before the party, this student turned eighteen. Her parents, being somewhat vigilant, realized that their daughter was involved in social behavior that was potentially unhealthy.

As they observed signs that she was involved with dangerous drug use, they attempted to get her help. As they attempted to reach out, they painfully realized that their efforts to protect their daughter were falling on deaf ears.

The first nightmare is that most treatment centers won't talk to you, if you're not the person seeking treatment. These concerned parents also discovered the state of New York considered their daughter an adult, paralyzing their rights as parents. In more blunt terms, when it came to getting help for her, there were no avenues for them to pursue because no one would talk to them. There was no mechanism for them to utilize to get the help their daughter desperately needed.

Most parents do not realize this until they are faced with a son or daughter who is out of control, possibly mentally ill or addicted to drugs.

The second nightmare that no one wants to address is if you have a young person, or any person for that matter, who has a serious addiction problem, there are few to no resources to help you.

The treatment programs that are available are insurance driven. Managed care has literally destroyed any viable treatment for young people who suffer from serious addiction. Most insurance companies will barely pay for fifteen days of residential care. The teenage heroin addict needs more than fifteen days to stabilize his or her life, never mind develop the skills to empower them to live a life of recovery. For the person who has no insurance, there is little or nothing available.

Where does a person go after rehab? What kind of support exists in our local community beyond twelve step meetings? Heroin is on every high school campus in our county. It is highly addictive and potentially lethal.

We can no longer turn a blind eye to this growing epidemic. We must also demand greater treatment opportunities for our young people. Managed care needs to be challenged. It is destroying people's lives!