Someone recently stopped me and asked why are so many teenagers at risk and so many more families in trouble today? This person was frustrated because he thought with everything we know and have access to, things should be so much better.
That concern is a very complicated one. A response to it should not be too simplistic and/or black or white. On some levels, the problems facing families today are as disturbing as they were twenty-five years ago. However, there are other variables that make family life today much different and more complex than two decades ago.
When many of us were growing up your ethnicity, religion or even what neighborhood you lived in did not matter. Everyone's family seemed to be on the same page. Most families supported a core group of values that dealt with respect, responsibility and accountability.
If I got into trouble in school, before I got home I could count on my mother knowing all the details. There was never a conversation around whether I was guilty or not guilty. The teacher was always right. My father would occasionally say, if by chance the teacher is wrong, you're guilty for all the times you were guilty and got away with it.
When we would be playing touch tackle or stickball in the street and the game got a little intense and tempers started to flare, Mrs. So and So would be on her porch. If she could hear the tempers and the bad language, she would come over and yell at us or threaten us with her famous bar of soap. Soap or no soap, we listened, most times calmed down and apologized for being too loud and rowdy.
Unfortunately, today neighborhood parents are afraid of neighborhood kids. The teenager of today is not inhibited or afraid to say what's on his mind. He will say it and use whatever vocabulary he chooses, even if there are strings of four letter words. There are more threats and defiance than in the past. Too many teenagers try using intimidation to get what they want, when they want it and how they want it.
Television, movies and the internet definitely influence behavior and how people act. Television and movies in my time were Howdy Doody, I Love Lucy and Father Knows Best. In short, these television programs were harmless. Today so many teenagers even before they reach middle school have been exposed to so much violence, hate and drugs that it is presented as almost an accepted way of life.
So many parents want to give their children opportunities that they did not have. In that regard, they sometimes compromise expectations and suspend boundaries. The teenager gets a mixed message that almost anything goes.
"No" has become a missing word in our vocabulary. Too many parents fear the reaction from their son or daughter if they are told no.
A litmus test that you are being effective as a parent is if your son or daughter tells you at least a dozen times a day that he or she hates your guts. If that happens, you are doing a good and effective job as a parent.
Too many parents want to be pals with their children. Sometimes friendship has to be side lined when it comes to calling your son or daughter to a higher standard. Family life is supposed to instill and nurture positive human values within our children.
That is very challenging because there are so many competing value systems. Some are blatantly corrupt and destructive. Others are more subtly dangerous because they advocate for a pick and choose kind of morality. Their common refrain is: if it feels good, do it.
It seems to me that we have to seek an acceptable balance. We want to empower our children to freedom and self-reliance, not shackle them with selfishness and indifference.
To truly be free, one has to be responsible, respectful and accountable. For every choice we make, there is a consequence.
There is nothing wrong with giving one's children material things, provided that they use these gifts responsibly. Too often teenagers see material opportunities not as opportunities, but rather as entitlements.
It is mind boggling to hear upper middle class high school students put their parents down because they have not purchased them a new car by senior year, and not just a new car, but a certain brand and color. They make it seem like life as they know it is finished because they were denied this expected entitlement.
There is something wrong with this thinking. More and more it is going unchecked and unchallenged. If a teenager works hard and acts responsibly and his or her parents have the resources, there is no crime in being generous with him or her.
Twenty-five years ago, we did not have all the distractions that are infectious today. It was commonplace to have dinner together each night. There was no television, forty-two phone calls, thirty-five instant messages or the computer clicking every twenty seconds during the dinner hour.
Today life is much more chaotic and crowded. There is little time left in a day just for thinking and reflecting. We are always racing to get from point A to point B. When we get there we are harried and often forget why we were rushing in the first place.
As parents, we have to make time to connect with our children on a regular basis, even if they resist and refuse. We have to celebrate traditions and rituals. Those experiences, even if done under duress, help to fortify family life.
The American Family is under siege because too many of us are bailing out. It is hard to be a parent and a family today. There are many more tensions and choices before us. We have to work harder at improving communication skills. We need to be more supportive of other like-minded parents. We need to model what a collaborative and community spirit are really all about for our children.
Many more teenagers are at risk today because too many adults have emotionally abandoned and neglected them. The teenager of today may stretch your thinking and keep you on your toes, but teenagers are teenagers, no matter what the decade. They are challenging, but they are still compassionate and loving. They are trying to find their way and place in a very cold and oftentimes hurtful world.
As parents, we need to sign on for this adventure for a lifetime. So far, I wouldn't trade it for anything!
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