Freedom: A Gift And A Responsibility

Every summer the battlefield of raising teenagers seems to intensify. With the dawn of cellular communication, our already distracted and highly mobile junior and senior high school coeds are even more distracted. They are constantly ...

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Every summer the battlefield of raising teenagers seems to intensify. With the dawn of cellular communication, our already distracted and highly mobile junior and senior high school coeds are even more distracted. They are constantly on the phone wheeling and dealing. For some of us parents, it is hard to keep up.

The summer brings a more relaxed atmosphere. It is an opportunity to relax and recharge our energies for a new school year. It is also a time of new challenges for teenagers around choices.

The temptation to drink and drug illegally escalates. Curfews become the on-going challenge for parents who want to maintain some sense of control and accountability for their underage teenagers.

Probably the most frightening issue, not just during the summer but also throughout the year, is "hanging out." What does that really mean? Every teenager probably has a slightly different definition. However, the common denominator is the freedom to be with friends wherever and whenever. There is no rhyme or reason to the gathering. The important point here is the freedom to gather.

In this summer of political conventions, the right to gather is an interesting point to consider. As an advocate for people's human rights, and teenagers are human (?), I do believe they have the right to gather or in their vernacular, the right to "hang out."

However, that right to gather should not impair anyone else's rights. Their gathering should not involve harassing, intimidating or frightening others.

Their right to gather should not involve illegal or reckless behaviors, i.e. illegal drinking and smoking pot, drag racing or blasting loud music and imposing it on the rest of the human race.

Their right to gather should not involve littering the gathering place or defacing public property by carvings, magic marker graffiti, or blatant vandalism.

Every "downtown" area in small communities during the summer becomes a gathering place for large groups of teenagers. For many it is a meeting place to plan the night's activities. They talk, they laugh, they plan and they leave.

Unfortunately, there are groups of teens that are gathering who are not planning, they are just hanging out and are infringing on the rights of others.

Their music is loud and distracting. Their language is at times loud, vulgar and directed at passers by. In their efforts to pass time with each other, they litter their gathering place, mark up the park benches and at times make obscene comments to those who pass by.

One Saturday evening, I was downtown in the village where I live. It was a warm summer night. The village was packed. The side street I was on was backed up. In the distance by a streetlight a group of teenagers was gathering as they often did. This group is the kind of group that is loud, blocks the sidewalk and can be rude as you pass by. The police are continuously asking them to move on.

This particular Saturday night the troops were pretty rowdy. A local disabled man was passing and the group that was gathered was taunting him. By the time I was able to reach the corner to try to intervene, a local constable was there.

What troubled me was not only the fact that they were picking on someone who could not defend himself both physically and verbally, but that many in the group were laughing and egging the prime movers on. The lack of respect was deeply troubling. A part of me wanted to believe that their behavior was chemically impaired; another part of me knew that some think that kind of behavior is fine.

It is never acceptable to ridicule another, especially someone who might be limited and not able to protect him or her self.

Most teenagers are respectful and mannerly, but there is an infectious group afoot. They are very disrespectful, bullying, intimidating and constantly use vulgar expletives when they speak to you.

This kind of behavior is becoming more infectious because too many of us tolerate this behavior. Our children interpret our silence as "it is okay."

It is not okay to be driving down Main Street throwing things and cursing at people as you pass. It is not okay to deface public property or have a picnic at a public bench and leave all your garbage behind, especially when there is a trash barrel right next to you. It is not okay as a group to single out another teenager, name call, embarrass him and then pick a fight.

Contrary to some adults, I don't believe it is part of the rite of passage to adulthood. I don't think or expect teenagers to be angelic.

We are not talking about a little name-calling. We are talking about large groups of kids who are getting high and while they are high get rowdy. Their rowdiness evolves into fighting. It is not a fistfight, but rather weapon fighting involving knives, pipes and other homemade weapons.

This nonsense is not happening in an urban setting, but right here on the North Shore. It is not epidemic yet, but if the truth be told, it is growing.

We all have the right to gather and to feel safe to express our individuality without the fear of being harassed or threatened.

Freedom is not only a gift, but also a responsibility that needs to be respected and protected.