It is only early fall and teenage stress is escalating dramatically. The stress increase is not about school or good grades, but rather is around teenage social behavior. Most parents of teenagers try to set reasonable boundaries and limits regarding their children's social behavior. The ongoing challenge for most parents is that the average teenager feels there should be no boundaries or limits to their social choices. Most high school students feel if they are passing in school and respectful at home, they should be free to come and go as they please.
What is frightening about that statement is that a growing number of parents support that reckless teenage attitude. Too many parents choose not to set appropriate boundaries and limits for their children's social behavior. There is no distinction between school night activities and weekend activities.
If JR wants to stay out until midnight on Tuesday night, that's okay. If he wants to stay out until one or two in the morning on Saturday night, that's okay. JR is only sixteen. He has a hard time getting up for school in the morning, even when he goes to bed before 10pm. What does a sixteen-year-old do until 2am on a Saturday night? Ask yourself the same question, especially if you have a high school age son or daughter.
A curfew should be a flexible structure in every household where there are children. Teenagers who are still in high school should never have the impression that staying out to all hours is a teenage entitlement - it is not! Should parents be flexible and open minded? Absolutely. Should teenage high school students call the shots? Absolutely not!
Parents need to be clear that they're in charge and that parenting oftentimes is not a democracy. They should not be afraid to set boundaries and limits. They should not be afraid to hold their children accountable for all of their social choices. Parents should also be prepared to hold their children's teachers, coaches and administrators accountable.
It's no secret that teenage drinking is an ongoing concern in all of our communities, in all of our high schools and in all of our families. It continues to be an epidemic concern because we, as adults, are not taking a proactive position in regards to this very sensitive social issue.
We can pass as many laws as we wish prohibiting the sale, use, distribution and consumption of alcohol by teenagers. It is a waste of time and money if what we pass is not enforced or enforceable. Talking about alcohol misuse among teenagers is the height of hypocrisy, if we have no intention of doing anything about it.
This is not an appeal for prohibition, but rather an appeal for responsible parenting. It is unconscionable, in this day and age, for parents to tolerate teenage drinking parties on their property. It is equally unconscionable for parents to buy kegs of beer for their underage teenagers to use for their weekend partying. This kind of social behavior is happening more frequently than most of us would like to acknowledge.
It is not appropriate for the high school football, soccer or lacrosse coach to not address drinking on the part of their athletes. Turning a blind eye, when one knows one's athletes are drinking on the weekends, is reckless and irresponsible. Equally as irresponsible is the statement of a coach after his team won a game when he said, "congratulations guys, go out and have fun, but be safe." In this day and age, one does not have to read in between the lines to understand the full impact of that statement. When I suggested to the student athlete who shared that quote that I thought it was harmless. He said the coach knows exactly what we're going to do tonight to celebrate our win!
If we hope to hold our students and our athletes accountable in regards to their underage drinking, there must be a collaborative effort among parents, teachers, coaches and administrators. If we don't support each other in this effort, it will continue to be a losing initiative with lethal consequences.
It is profoundly painful, if you are the only parent holding your high school age son or daughter accountable, when it comes to his or her social choices. It is not only painful for you as a parent, but it is also deeply painful for your teenage son or daughter.
The drinking issue is no longer an issue for a handful of high school students who live their lives on the edge. It is a serious issue for all high school students because every group and clique in school is involved with this behavior. There will not be a social gathering this weekend where drugs and alcohol will not be a part of the equation, either before, during or after the party.
For high school coeds who drink every weekend, the social objective is not to use alcohol as merely a social lubricant, but rather to get drunk, or as they say, wasted. The question to ask is, "why are so many intelligent young adults using alcohol and other chemical substances in a reckless way?"
The growing number of teenagers who are getting wasted weekend after weekend are engaging, in some way, in a merciless form of suicide. Kids who love life and have respect for their own dignity do not consistently place themselves in that out of control position.
So why? For many of our teenagers, the stress of teenage-hood is unmanageable. They use the alcohol and other chemicals as a form of medication to take the edge off their increasing stress.
As you are reading this column, unbeknownst to most of you, you will know at least one young person who is at risk. A teenager, who wears a plastic smile, says and does all the right things, but because of peer pressure, school pressure and family pressure, is a time bomb ready to go off.
Unfortunately, with all of our sophistication and technology, we still do a very poor job of empowering young people to feel good about themselves. We seem to be failing in teaching them the skills for coping and surviving the stress of living. As adults, we have to ask ourselves what kind of example are we setting for them? Do we live responsibly and respectfully?
If the truth be told, we live at a point in history when we have taller buildings but shorter tempers; wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less. We buy more, but enjoy less. We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom and hate too often.
We have learned how to make a living, but not a life. We've added years to life, not life to years. We have been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We have conquered outer space, but not inner space.
We have done larger things, but not better things. We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We have conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. (a paraphrase from George Carlin)
We must have the courage to confront the growing stress in our children's lives and be a part of the solution, not part of the problem.