Double Standards Give Mixed Messages

So often I hear adults complain about teenagers and the choices they make. What kind of standards have we set for them? Are they clear and attainable or do they change like the wind based ...

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So often I hear adults complain about teenagers and the choices they make. What kind of standards have we set for them? Are they clear and attainable or do they change like the wind based on who you are or what group you are in?

Recently, in one of my sociology classes, students were discussing the problems with secondary education. Many made reference to the double standards they encountered. Some were courageous enough to use their own high school experience to underscore the double standards.

The student who was most pointed was the former athlete who spoke about how underage drinking was handled at his school. He said in simple terms, if you played football, basketball or lacrosse and got snagged for drinking, you got a slap on the wrist and were told not to do it again or the school pretended they did not see it at all.

The non-athletes in this particular school who got caught were held very strictly to the student code of conduct as outlined in the school's student handbook. The consequence for underage drinking was a three day out of school suspension for a first offense and a three day out of school suspension and suspension from all school activities for a second offense. This student went on to say that the non-athletes got no slack at all and were always held to the letter of the law.

Although my student was an athlete, he expressed how that "double standard" disturbed him. He furthered his concern by expressing how many of the non-athletes really resented the athletes. That negative feeling really infected the school's sense of community.

His sharing empowered other students to share other experiences around "double standards" that went beyond the athletic community and touched upon students versus non-students, how students dressed, meaning what they looked like. If they dyed their hair, had body piercings and/or tattoos, that was often a causative factor in how school policy was applied.

In short, a number of students talked about how they felt judged and evaluated by how they "looked" rather than who they were.

I took an informal survey in all of my college classes this term (I have five this semester between two college communities). Each class expressed the same frustration around double standards and how school policy or non-compliance to school policy was unequally applied and enforced.

Clearly double standards give a mixed message and in many ways encourage students to cheat and manipulate the system. On some levels, it gives some students the message that certain behaviors are okay, even if they are blatantly wrong and against the law.

PJ is a senior in high school. He is the oldest of four children. He comes from an intact family. His Dad owns his own business. His Mom has the gift of being a stay at home Mom.

As PJ entered junior high school, his rebellion slowly emerged. Throughout elementary school, he was focused, cooperative and involved in school activities. In eighth grade his group of friends started to change. He started to ask questions about issues that were never a concern before. He wanted a later curfew. He wanted to basically come and go as he pleased. His refrain was: "everybody else comes and goes as they please."

During junior high, although he was challenging and constantly pushed things to the limit, he still responded to his parents respectfully.

Once PJ started high school, there was a social explosion. He played sports and was a pretty gifted athlete. However, although he stretched people's patience, because he was an athlete, he got many additional accommodations that his peers who were non-athletes did not. He started cutting classes regularly, but was never given a detention. His parents were never notified. He was clearly in non-compliance with the school's student handbook.

As time passed, PJ not only cut class strategically, but was now staying out all night, drinking and smoking "weed." Each time his parents confronted him, PJ punished them more by disappearing for a few more days. They conveyed their frustration to the school and his coaches. Everyone expressed empathy for their plight, but no one with authority was willing to step up and break this reckless cycle.

PJ's parents felt very isolated and alone. Their son was an effective talker. Many times he convinced anyone who would listen that he was the most abused child since Oliver Twist.

The cutting continued, as well as the drinking and smoking. However, now PJ was threatening his parents. His parents were trying to call him to accountability. PJ started to threaten his Dad with physical harm.

One night, after he was grounded for staying out all night on a school night, PJ went ballistic. He put a couple of holes in the bedroom wall and lunged at his Dad. His Dad restrained him. PJ threatened to call the police and have his Dad arrested for assault. PJ's Dad had had enough. He asked PJ to leave. He told him he was welcome to come home when he was ready to go to school without cutting, stop drinking, stop smoking pot and staying out all night. In short, his Dad was looking for a commitment from PJ that he was willing to live by some rules.

PJ said he was not interested. His parents notified the school and his coaches. PJ continued to play without any consequence. The school turned their head on the cutting. He never got caught with pot or for drinking. He continued both behaviors.

To the shock of his parents, countless families have rescued PJ and taken him in. Not one parent has called to see if it is okay or even just to say that he is fine. The frustrating part is that everyone thinks they are being helpful. Quite to the contrary, they are enabling his reckless and irresponsible behavior.

PJ's parents are not heartless, rigid human beings, rather they are very loving, compassionate people, who only want the best for their children. They have consistently reached out to those misguided parents who think they are helping by rescuing other people's children.

Unfortunately, many parents have not been receptive to their concerns. They don't return phone calls or respect the wishes of the family involved.

No matter how you look at it, negative, reckless, irresponsible behavior should never be acceptable. Those engaged in that kind of behavior need to be held fully accountable. It is never just and fair to unevenly administer the consequences for non-compliance. We need to bridge that gap wherever it exists.

We need to challenge young and old alike not to judge by externals. We must assess students and adults by the content of their character and integrity, not by the clothes they wear or the music they listen to.

Schools must be safe places for all students, no matter what their social circumstance. No student, no matter what his or her social value to the school, should ever be above the law. All students should be equally responsible and accountable.

There are a growing number of PJ's dancing on the edge because people are rescuing them and they are not being held accountable for their choices.
What will we do if an out of control PJ recklessly kills or cripples himself or someone else? What if that someone else is your son or daughter? Then what should we do? It's too late. The damage is already done.

Let's not wait for that to happen. Support other parents in their effort to parent their children!