Thursday, March 31, 2011

Teenage behavior: What could possibly go wrong?

This piece isn't solely intended to make my fellow parents of teenagers feel a little better.

But it may.

It also isn't meant to encourage society at large to feel a little more comfortable about our future.

But it might.

I'm currently experiencing a lot of "back to the future" moments, since I'm simultaneously being dad to a fifteen-year-old sophomore and working up a flyer for my class of 1981, thirty year high school reunion. That's us up there—the mighty Auburn High School senior class of thirty years previous.

Can you spot me? I'm the white kid with the feathered hair, parted in the center.

We looked so happy-go-lucky, so innocent and so...thin. Perish the thought that this wholesome crew would be perilously at risk for sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancy and alcohol-related death.

But we were, and apparently a lot more at risk than today's teenagers. In a feature entitled "The kids truly are all right," written for by Laura Sessions Stepp, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist specializing in adolescent issues, she states that nearly every high-risk teen behavior has witnessed declines since 1990.

Smoking, drinking, pregnancies and suicides have all dropped substantially. So have fighting and firearm-related deaths. The only problem which has worsened is that more teens are getting fatter.

If forced to pick my teen risk poison, I'll take fat any day.

We parents complain about our teenager constantly clutching her cell phone, monitoring her texts with the vigor of a marine guarding the American embassy in Tripoli. That phone, however, is more of a parent's ally than our kids can imagine.

It's our property, and it's not their birthright, but a privilege which we parents administer.

Sure, our kid has instant access to which socks her BFF has decided to wear and how long it took to find them next to the cat box. But for every hundred messages which comprise the Ocean of Teen Text Minutiae, one buoy of alarm may prove a lifeline toward keeping our child and her friends safe. GPS devices can be activated on most cell phones, which implies an inherent mistrust. But I don't care.

I really love being the cool dad, but I can't be cool to a daughter who no longer exists.

Teen prefrontal lobes experience a perfect storm of rebelliousness and an inability to comprehend consequences. These aren't bad kids; they're just kids, so our job is to educate them, to prepare them and to give them a safety net, even if we're jackbooted Nazis in their eyes.

When we were teenagers, our parents either trusted our word or locked us down. They often sat on a Friday or Saturday night, wondering and hoping about our whereabouts and our condition. It no longer has to be that way, and technology offers the perfect excuse for our children to remove themselves from a dicey situation.

After having read the article, I'm encouraged, yet still apprehensive.

I'm so glad to hear that more of them will be around to change my diaper one day.

Now, if they'd just listen to some better music.

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