The problem is not new, nor should it be fodder for gossip. Today’s teens are simply running wild. They are greater risk takers, more sexually active and overly informed than any teenage population that came before. From MTV pimping over the top Sweet Sixteen celebrations, as voyeuristic glances into the tiny percentage of the population that can afford to have Usher at their parties. To “reality dating” shows modeling behaviors that are breeding at risk teens and young adults, by promoting excessive drinking and providing hot tubs as an option for each date. The media and the freely accessibile internet access colludes with the corruption of our teenage children. Yet, it is as if we forget that the main responisibility for what our teens do falls squarely on parents for no other influence is as great and as influential as that of family.Web 2.0 and “social networking” are a much more effective means of communication utilized feverishly by adolescents. Advancements such as video chats, give adolescent the more private forum to “explore” with various behaviors and cultures, alternate lifestyles and some really out there “freakish” things we as adults can’t even grasp. There are now translators for the slang used by kids to “text message” one another. Yes the illiterate language devised to further stunt any thinking that might be needed to right in full sentences. Do we want our kids paralyzed by gadgets? Do we want our kids informed by those that have the freedom to express absolutely any view they wish and with pictures and video to make it more entertaining, such as the site The Church of Euthanasia. As a teacher and writer I use the internet to a almost embarassing degree for both information gathering and inspiration for my writing efforts. I Googled euthanasia for a student who was assigned the topic as a final paper in her English class. This essay was to be a persuasive argument for or against the controversial practice. About five to seven links down the results of the search was the link to the church that I mentioned. Clicking on the site I gasped and shook with anxiety as I finally understood what we (parents, teachers, kids) were up against. The site promotes among other things, death in all forms, sodomy an suicide. So there I was doing what my students were by researching the topic, and there it was, like any other site. Organized (not well) just enough to have their information viewed and their “Four Pillars” defined. I will not share the ideas espoused by this website, but you should take a look sometime and see what your kids read for their school projects.
Then there is the inevitable Hollywood influence. Our kids love music and movies just like we did. Yet they are getting to hear about and watch the pop idols they worship live the most reckless and dangerous of lives. Pregnant Disney TV show stars, the network is probably scrambling to find a way to separate themselves from the shamed star of their show “Zoey 101” as we learn that young Jamie Lynn Spears may have been having an “affair” with an older executive. Wholesome teenage fun for the whole family, right? The media is stoning Lynne Spears, and yes her daughters are particularly frightening, but is she to blame?
The Megan Meier’s story is particularly disturbing and has all the elements that are facilitating an adolescent epidemic of risk taking and poor judgment. To quickly sum up the Megan Meier’s story is difficult for there are many layers. It involves female friendships, parenting skills, MySpace, boys and very irresponsible adults. Megan apparently had a falling out with her close friend and neighbor and this neighbors Mom Lori Drew was concerned that Megan was going to say indecent things about her daughter. She quickly created a MySpace profile of a young handsome boy she named Josh Evans from a neighboring town, and started communicating with Megan in a flirtatious way. Megan had been dealing with self esteem issues along with every other adolescent, and found the attention of the young man exciting. He was cute and sweet and could really understand her. He told her she was pretty and wanted to be her boyfriend. She had no reason to think anything else was happening. Three weeks into the internet relationship, he turned on Megan and said she was not the kind of person he wanted to associate with due to things he heard from kids at her school. She responded with shock, tears and hanging herself with a belt as her parents got ready for dinner downstairs. It was quickly disclosed that the boy with whom Megan had bonded was really a collaborative effort of a family, initiated by the matriarch Mrs. Drew, and maintained by all. They explained that they started the profile on MySpace to protect their daughter from slanderous talk (never did Megan say a bad thing about her neighbor or anyone else). Since the rest of the neighborhood found out about the families twisted game, the Drews has complained of harassment on several occasions. To date there will be no charges found against the MySpace family hoax or any of the participants. A tragedy like this is unthinkable yet it is subtle, societal and scary.
If the teenagers seem frightening as they shoot up shopping malls during the holidays, is it possible to assume that the parents must have something to do with it? As the story of Megan illustrates the power of the internet on our young ones, it also shows parents as they set the example for their children. Taunting a young person for fun, causing pain and perpetuating deceit are lessons these parents clearly imparted to their own children. What do we do as members of society to protect our kids from such insidiousness?
There are several basic parenting principles that can have a positive impact on children. Use them, and perhaps we can gain back control just enough to produce citizens who we could be proud of. These basics are not “new age” and they are certainly not difficult to grasp, but do we care to save our kids? Perhaps we should try.
Boundaries are a necessity for kids. They want and need them and parents have to provide them. Without understanding their own boundaries and those of others, kids have no way to gauge their attitudes and behaviors. It is not as simple as saying something is good or bad, right or wrong, but why and in what scenario? Guiding adolescents by defining boundaries allows them to process social behavior and respond to it. Lynne Spears allowed her young daughter, underage and naïve to not only have an older boyfriend but to basically co-habitate with him. Some may say, “at least I know they are safe, they are home after all.” Yet the child was fourteen if the story is at all accurate, when she began dating this young man. If at fourteen this type of behavior is accepted then it stands to reason that two years into a relationship a pregancy wouldn’t be such a shock after all. There also appears no discussion about whether these young people had protection or used it, or what type and who provided it? Why is that not an important enough facet of the story to focus on? It could only help send the message that there are no guarantees and always that chance that even with protection, there are risks. Boundaries again play a part in this particular case because not only did Lynne not provide any, but there was also an older sister, incredibly troubled and ridiculously famous, shirking all decency in front of the entire world. Losing her children, behaving in a way that could only be seen as psychologically volatile, and big sister Britney Spears never knew a boundary she didn’t obscenely cross.
Teenagers need to learn through actions about consequences. They must know that an action may have a positive or negative reaction and this fact should come as no surprise by the time a kid is in their teens. There is plenty of argument about punishment, and I am not sure where I stand on this globally. Yet parents must define consequences for their children with consistency.
This brings me to the adolescent’s desperate need for consistency from their parents. They need to understand clearly what their actions will lead to every time. It seems as though parents are afraid to provide consistent consequences because they “feel bad” or it seems they fear their kid’s reactions. If parents allow kids to turn the tables and assume the position of authority, how can they be blamed for their inevitable transgressions? There are parents and there are children. Parents can not be mistaken for “friends”; they must never stop parenting in a consistent and committed fashion.
This brings us to commitment to our children and to parenting. This commitment I describe is a life long, full time job parent’s take on when they bring a child into this world. They must commit to setting boundaries, parenting with consistency and establishing consequences. They must enforce this on a daily basis without fail. Does this sound like a Herculean task? Perhaps it is at times and I by no means wish to imply that parenting in this era is easy or terrain that is well traveled. Yet the alternative, as we have so clearly been shown again and again in the tabloids, and stories of tragic lost kids doing unthinkable things almost daily by the media, can’t possibly be ignored. There has to be a better way to guide our youth, than by the examples I have shared. Without a doubt the answer is parents, parenting, and society’s willingness to see some changes in the way adolescents are perceived and accept them so as to help them.
There is hope for both the parents and our youth. I ask you then; will you make the commitment before that hope is extinguished? I think our kids are worth it. It is up to all of us to convince them of their worth, through guidance, patience and setting a reasonable example.
- www.ok-magazine.com Jamie Lynn Spears Says She’s Pregnant
Dec 18, 2007
- www.nytimes.com/2007/12/16/fashion/16meangirls.html When the Bullies Turned Faceless by Christopher Maag. December 16, 2007
Copyright ©2007 Veronica Romm