Friday, February 23, 2007

Teens talk: Are adults listening?

A community-wide meeting was held earlier this week at the high school to discuss the teen drug/alcohol issue that has many of us concerned. The turnout was better than I expected, though less than it should have been in a town where the high school population exceeds 900 students, the middle school, 700. I don't know how many folks attended; my guess is between 60 and 75. Could've been more.

At any rate, the meeting was productive in that it gave people a chance to voice their concerns and ask questions. A high school student council rep was on hand to speak, and she cited two reasons for the higher-than-average number of kids in this town who drink and drug. One, there's nothing else to do. And two, no one's stopping them. The first reason, I think, is as old as the hills. Don't most kids feel there isn't much to do in their hometown? That doesn't give them an excuse to turn to drink and drugs. So I'm just ignoring that one for brevity's sake. I always tell my kids if they're bored, it's their own fault.

But the second reason is of grave concern to me. "No one's stopping us," they say. In a perfect world, we could expect these kids not to indulge because the long term effects are debilitating. We could reason with them, appeal to their sense of logic. But these are hormonal teens we're talking about, and logic plays no part. It would also be an assumption to say that all parents are on the same page, that we all are trying to keep our children from drinking and drugging. And that assumption would be wrong.

Windsor has its fair share of parents who buy alcohol for their kids' parties, who have no problem serving minors. Then there are those who may not condone underage drinking, but they conveniently look the other way so they can say they didn't know what was going on. Since I'm not publishing this in anyone's newspaper, I'm going to say exactly what I think: that is pure bullshit. I'm sorry if that offends you; I'm offended by adults who willingly take part in corrupting kids, and I'm oh so tired of pussyfooting around serious issues. Everyone is afraid to seem judgemental; well, if we aren't judging those who play a part in hurting our kids, what good is our ability to reason, decide, and choose? Whether we admit it or not, every single one of us uses judgement everyday. It's a useful tool, and in the case of Windsor's teenage alcohol and drug abuse, one I think we would all do well to utilize.

It's cliche but true: It takes a village to raise a child. If my kids do something they shouldn't, I want to know about it. If they're ever disrespectful to their teachers, I want to know about it. As parents, we can't be everywhere our kids are; we need to be able to rely on one another to be our eyes and ears. Ultimately, we are responsible for our own children, but that doesn't mean we have to go it alone. And if one of us is party to the corruption of minors, we are all responsible if we've let it happen. I think adult peer pressure is in order. If you know of a parent or other adult who is contributing to this issue by supplying kids with alcohol and drugs or ignoring them when they're using, call him on it. Tell these folks what they're full of (and it isn't sugar and spice). Let them know you won't stand for laissez faire parenting since the result is hurting all of our kids. What they're doing may not be illegal, but that doesn't mean we can't make it unpleasant for them.

One other issue that came up at the meeting was the fact that Windsor's student drug/alcohol policy is more strict than those of neighboring school districts. Yet we have a higher incidence of use. Why is this? What is happening, or not happening, with the policy? Is it not being enforced uniformly, across the board, at all levels? I can't think of any other reason for the higher-than-average statistics despite a strict policy. No one wants to point fingers, but at some point, there must be the acceptance of responsibility. Who is dropping the ball? There are those who will say it isn't important to determine who is responsible. But it IS important, because until that person or those people are no longer in the position to negatively impact our kids, nothing much will change. If the solution requires personnel change, then let the changes begin. We can bust our butts trying to give our young people places to hang out, activities to participate in, and alternative choices, but until we start cracking down on those who come to school drunk or high, who use during lunch, and who sell the stuff both on and off campus, we're fighting a losing battle. And we can't crack down if we don't have people in positions of authority who stand up to those lazy parents who don't care if their kids use because to demand anything else would require consistency, involvement, and a willingness to be the bad guy. Huh. Welcome to parenting.

This week's meeting was a great place to start bringing out into the open an issue that is not always easy to discuss. Emotions will run high, as they should. Our young people deserve at least that much, and until this point, they haven't been getting it.

Wake up, Windsor. We're failing our kids. They know it. And now there's no excuse for of any of us not to know it as well.