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Where Do Teens Learn Positive Social Priorities?

Life is not easy. Every day brings about new pressures. The present generation of teenagers probably deals with more stress and grief in a given day than most of us who are twice their age ...

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Life is not easy. Every day brings about new pressures. The present generation of teenagers probably deals with more stress and grief in a given day than most of us who are twice their age will ever fully understand.

We don't do a good job of empowering teenagers to deal effectively with stress and with decision-making. More and more parents and adults in authority are rescuing our young adults from taking responsibility for their lives. It does not help positive decision-making when every time our son or daughter makes a poor choice, we make an excuse for that poor choice and/or rescue them from the consequences of that choice.

In addition to enabling destructive behavior, we too often give a mixed message on what is right, what is wrong and what one's priorities should be.

Values and priorities are not clear. They may be clear in our minds, but not in the minds of many teenagers. And why would they be? Everywhere a teenager turns, he or she gets another subtle or not so subtle message about choosing. Some of these messages about choosing are selfish and potentially destructive.

The wholesome values of yesteryear seem to be buried in the rubble of self-serving interests. When was the last time you saw a commercial about honesty, truth, responsibility, respect and social restraint? Probably never. Why? Because they don't sell. They are really dull to market, even though most of us adults would affirm that they should be the foundation of every human being's life.

When was the last time you saw a commercial aimed at teenagers that encouraged a positive set of social priorities, like God, family, school and human service? Again, these priorities, to many, are not adventurous and exciting. Most would say they are important and should be encouraged, but who is encouraging them?

KT is a seventeen-year-old senior. He is an excellent athlete and a horrible student. KT is a horrible student, not because he does not have the ability, but rather because he is lazy and has always maneuvered his way through school because of his athletic ability.

At the end of his junior year, KT's Dad suddenly passed away. KT was devastated. As a father and son, they were very close. KT idolized the ground his Dad walked on. KT's Dad was his biggest fan.

After his Dad's death, KT's life was shattered. He became very belligerent and nasty. He took most of his anger out on his Mom. His drinking became more reckless and he did even less in school. However, he was still very committed to athletics.

In an effort to support KT in his time of need, adults in his life confirmed his athletic participation and literally ignored all of his other negative behaviors. He was cutting class regularly, staying out all night and continuing to drink.

Unfortunately, his anger was being expressed in more violent ways. He was breaking things and destroying property. One night while under the influence, he and his Mom got into it. He went ballistic and physically assaulted her. He was so out of control that the police were called. He was arrested, charged with assault and spent a number of days at the "Riverhead Hilton."

Shortly after that nightmare, KT was released on the condition that he would get help. Most decent kids who lose control and get into trouble are usually willing to sell their souls to get back into everyone's good graces. KT was willing to do just that. He promised the world that he would get help and change. Unfortunately, as time passed, he became less and less cooperative in the area of change or in admitting that he had any problems at all. As far as he was concerned, everyone else had the problem, he was fine.

As part of his release from jail, an order of protection was issued. He was mandated to attend an anger management program and to get counseling for his alleged alcohol problem.

For a brief time, KT went to a group as part of his alcohol program. He admits that his anger issues did emerge, but he dismissed them. Due to football, he had to drop out. When he was confronted about his non-compliance, he made five million excuses as to why he could not take care of business.

The place where he was staying rent-free found out that he was not taking care of business. They were less than pleased. They made school and mental health counseling non-negotiable items for life in their home. They made it clear that non-compliance would bring serious consequences that would probably involve football. KT assured them that he was taking care of business.

Two weeks passed and this family followed up on KT's schoolwork and found out that he was cutting BOCES and not being all that cooperative with his teachers on the main campus. Upon further inquiry they found out that he had blown off counseling for the last three weeks.

With little to no fanfare, they confronted KT with the facts of his non-compliance and his consequences. He would have to miss his Saturday game. He was not pleased. It was homecoming. He elected to go anyway. His coach did not play him. The coach was not happy. Our friend stayed out all night because it was homecoming. He did not return to where he lived until late the next day.

When he got there, again with little or no commotion, these parents told KT that he would not be able to attend practice for a week or play in a second game. His coach called to plead his case, indicating how much KT loved football. These parents remained firm. KT was grounded.

If he really loved football so much, he would be attending classes, going to counseling and taking care of business.

Sports are a wonderful venue to help build the character and integrity of a student athlete, as long as they do not become an end in themselves or the only reason a student gets up in the morning.

KT used his football abilities in a very counterproductive manner. Instead of athletics reinforcing what went on in school in a positive way, football became his excuse for not taking care of business. Too many of the important adults in his life made excuses for his poor choices, rather than advocating for him to comply and be held accountable for the decisions he made.

As adults, we give a terrible message when we minimize academic responsibility and reckless behavior that threatens or hurts others. In this circumstance, how is KT ever going to grow and change for the better?