Do you know where you son or daughter is tonight? It is summer vacation. Everyone tends to take a more relaxed view about life. Many of us schedule vacation during summertime. Many employers are much more relaxed about time clocks and attire.
At home, during the summer, we tend to be more relaxed about household rules and family expectations. The dinner hour tends to be more casual. Parents tend to be more laid back about beds being made and household chores being attended to on a regular basis.
If we are parents of teenagers, we are plagued with requests for sleepovers and extended curfews on a regular basis. For many of our teenagers, summer vacation is one extended adventure. Every day has to be filled with excitement and opportunity. Sitting at home is not an option. During the day, most activities consist of going to the beach or the pool, the mall or the movies or just hanging out with friends in one's own downtown area.
The real challenge for parents during the summer is supervising nighttime social activities. For many parents, this is a nightmare. Most high school coeds want to hang out every night of the week with friends. The night usually begins with no clear plan, except that friends are gathering. Most teenagers want to play it by ear, unless there is a formal party to attend.
The formal parties are usually more civil than the informal parties. The informal parties tend to be wild and out of control, especially if they have no adult supervision. For some parents, staying on top of their teenage son or daughter's social life during the summer is a full time job. Keeping up with what they are doing on any given night is a challenge.
A question to ask: "Do you have specific guidelines for your teenagers during summer vacation?" In other words, are there do's and don'ts? Do you set a curfew? Do you have a policy about sleeping out and sleepovers? If you give permission for your son or daughter to sleep out, what are the parameters? Do you check with the host family to see if it's okay and if they will be home? What about the issue of alcohol? Do you hold your children accountable? Do you hold their friends accountable? What about your own adult friends who tolerate and/or condone underage drinking? Do you hold them accountable?
As you're reading this column, do you know what you son or daughter is doing today and tonight? Do you know who they will be with? It is summer vacation and most of our children would like us to lighten up! However, there is never a vacation from parenting, especially when our children are school age!
The attitude of invincibility among our young is worse than its ever been. Too many teenagers think they are immune from disaster. Unfortunately, as we approach the midpoint of summer, we are reminded that our teenagers are not immune. To the contrary, they are very vulnerable. We have had countless tragedies already this summer due to reckless decision-making, poor supervision and lack of accountability.
There has been a lot of hoopla around stiffening the penalties regarding drunk driving, underage drinking and parental indifference. Unfortunately, unless we are serious about holding people accountable, all of this legislation is useless. Random and inconsistent enforcement only gives our teenagers a mixed message. Many of them believe they are above the law, or if they are confronted, that nothing is really going to happen.
If we are serious about addressing underage drinking and drunk driving, then we need to be more consistent and not keep multiplying laws that are not enforced. If they're going to hold parents accountable for underage drinking at house parties, then we need to do more than just talk about it. We need to act on it.
Every semester, in all of my social science classes, I survey my students about their attitudes on drinking. Most students confirm that they drink regularly, even though they are not twenty-one. However, they make a point of saying that they don't drink recklessly or drink and drive. Many students express that the drinking age of twenty-one is ridiculous and should be rolled back to eighteen. They express that they believe they act more responsibly in this regard than many of their peers who are much older.
They present the argument that if they are adult enough to buy a gun, drive a car, vote for the president and go to war, then they are old enough to walk into a pub and buy a beer.
The other more practical point they make is that the twenty-one year old rule is rarely enforced consistently. They confess that they learned early on in high school how to get over on their parents. They also acknowledge that there were always homes in the neighborhood that tolerated underage drinking.
Recently, I spoke to a Mom who buried her son last year due to an alcohol related circumstance. Unbeknownst to her, he was at a graduation party that was being supervised by parents who permitted underage drinking. An altercation erupted, her son and his friends were intoxicated and he became the ultimate casualty.
After the funeral, his friends gathered at his home and shared funny stories about their friend who had died. One of the stories that was told was about the first time the deceased had gotten drunk. He was in the tenth grade. His mother overheard the story and was shocked. She didn't know her son had started drinking in the tenth grade. He was very effective at hiding it because he knew how much she disapproved of that illegal behavior. Even more shocking was the admission from this group of grieving young men who had just graduated from high school that they too began drinking in tenth grade and getting over on their parents as well.
One can make a case that parents need to be more vigilant when it comes to their children's social behavior and social decision-making. Unfortunately, there are many parents who see nothing wrong with underage drinking. Some will go to the extent of permitting teenage drinking parties in their homes. They take the lame position that teenagers are going to drink anyway. So, they would rather protect them and let them drink under their supervision! Needless to say, I believe that is a reckless and irresponsible way to look at a very lethal problem. How many teenagers do we need to bury before we realize that approach is blatantly irresponsible?
If you think the twenty-one rule should be changed, then work to change it! But until then, it is the law. We don't have the right to arbitrarily disregard it and/or amend it to suit our social circumstances.
As parents, it is our obligation to know where our teenagers are at all times. If you permit sleep outs at another family's home, then you should check to see if there is parental supervision and if the parents are okay with the sleepover. If the parents are okay with the sleepover, it is a reasonable expectation that they will supervise the evening's activities - when the teenagers go to bed, making sure no one sneaks out and making sure that all guests are accounted for. Even good kids try to get over on parents!
Every parent's nightmare is getting a phone call that his or her son or daughter was killed in an accident. What intensifies the nightmare is becoming aware that your son or daughter was killed in an accident that could have been prevented if there was better parental/adult supervision.
Our teenagers might not like our vigilance, but they need it!