It is midnight on a summer night. Do you know where your teenager is? If one were to take a walk around midnight on a Friday night in Port Jefferson Village, one would be amazed at how many high school coeds are milling around. By 1:00am the number has decreased, but there are still an awful lot of teens hanging out.
When asked the question "are you allowed to be out?" a surprising number said they did not have a curfew. Those responding ranged in age from fourteen to seventeen. Others said they had a curfew and just disregarded it. Still another group said they snuck out of their houses to be with friends.
This summer many North Shore communities have complained of an increase in vandalism, especially between midnight and 2:00am. Witnesses who have seen the alleged vandals flee the crime scene say they looked like young teenagers.
When we hear stories of vandalism and random acts of property destruction, our first image of the culprit is some unsupervised juvenile delinquent from another town.
Many communities have been victimized by juvenile delinquents from outside their towns. However, if the real truth be told, most vandalism and destruction of property is done by neighborhood kids. Too often, they are bored and believe these inappropriate acts of destruction are no big deal.
In a past generation, one could make the call that the misguided teens responsible for this mayhem are from broken homes and/or on drugs. If the truth be told, many of our vandals are from good families and are not necessarily using drugs. However, they have other social and emotional difficulties that impair their thinking and their judgment.
In communities that have been blessed with much materially, their children too often take what they have for granted. They see certain opportunities as entitlements. When they act recklessly and irresponsibly, oftentimes they are not held responsible.
TJ is sixteen. He is a very active young adult. He comes from a great family. He is the youngest of five children. Like his four brothers before him, his parents promised him a "good running" car when he turned sixteen, as long as he maintained a "B" average and could pay his insurance.
His sixteenth birthday came. He held up his end of the agreement. He received a beautiful car that was in great running condition. He had just received his junior license.
Shortly after receiving the car, he was stopped for speeding. His parents became concerned that he was a very aggressive driver. They read him the riot act. A few weeks later he ran a stop sign and almost hit a car.
Early in July he was racing with friends. He lost control of his car, hit a curb and then a fence. He totaled his car. No one was hurt, including himself.
Now he was without wheels. He pleaded with his parents, stating that he needed transportation to and from work. Finally they relented and gave him another car. He did not pay a cent for it. If the truth be told, TJ did not need a car for work, it was more of a convenience. He lives within walking distance of his part-time job.
A month has not passed since his terrible accident and he is speeding and racing around town again. The speeding and racing are a problem, but this problem is further compounded by the fact that he only has a junior license and should not be doing anything but going to his job.
How many parents crumble under the pressure and allow their children to disregard the law and use the car when they are not supposed to? What will it take for all of us to appreciate what is at risk here?
How many expensive bikes have you replaced during teenage hood because your son or daughter was careless or reckless? A beautiful mountain bike is left downtown unlocked. Your daughter comes out of Dunkin Donuts and is shocked and appalled that someone has taken off with it. How many bikes are damaged just by being left outside in the rain and snow unattended, to the point that they become dysfunctional?
The troubling concern here is that our children just expect these items will be replaced. They are shocked and appalled when it does not happen or you suggest that a less expensive and not as stylish bike might be bought in its' place.
What do you do if you find that your fourteen, fifteen or eighteen year old is sneaking out in the middle of the night? In the grand scheme of life it is not a murder, rape or violence. It is not the end of the world. Some will even say, "everyone has done it." It is part of the rite of passage for teenagers into adulthood.
All of this might be true. However, these are different times and that behavior should not be ignored or minimized. It should be confronted and dealt with.
It is one thing to sneak out and feel the rush of getting over on adults for an adventurous walk in the familiar neighborhood. It is another thing to sneak out, take the car, go to a keg party (unsupervised) or go to the beach or city.
These adventures have many scary variables that could be lethal. The unauthorized use of the family car has catastrophic consequences if your teen is involved in an accident. Unsupervised drinking parties present many potential problems. While under the influence, people of all ages make all kinds of impaired decisions that could place one's life at risk.
Too often when teens are under the influence, they tend to be less inhibited and are more likely to respond to the foolish dares of their friends, which can be harmless or lethal.
If we choose not to address this issue, our kids get the message by our silence that it is okay. The present climate is much too violent and volatile for us to be silent. Don't take that chance on your teen's life!