A reader wants to know if teenagers will avoid getting in drugs and other inappropriate things if they partake in more-organized activities such as church youth groups, athletics and school organizations. And if so, can parents dictate to a teenager that he must get involved in such activities?
Nothing is so deadly as boredom during the teen years; therefore, I definitely think parents should encourage involvement in the sorts of activities you mentioned.
The recipe for “Teen in Trouble,” whether the trouble be alcohol, drugs, or sex, is equal parts negative peer pressure, parental underinvolvement and boredom. Let a teenager just wander in search of something to do, and he’ll eventually wander into a crowd of kids who are themselves wandering. Sooner or later, they’ll stumble onto the opportunity to experience something forbidden. Lacking anything better to do, they will accept, and keep accepting, the invitation.
Several years ago, I did an informal study of well-adjusted teens. These were young people ages 13 through 17 who, according to their parents’ reports, made good grades, got along well with their parents, enjoyed active social lives, and seemed happy with themselves. Without exception, these youngsters were active in at least one extracurricular activity through their schools, churches or communities. In addition, every one of them had a hobby. To their parents’ knowledge, none of them was using drugs or alcohol, nor were any of them sexually active.
I know that some of you are saying, “C’mon John, don’t be so naive! Just because parents don’t know something is going on doesn’t mean it isn’t!”
I disagree. Parents who are interested and involved in what their children are doing with their spare time will usually know when something is wrong. They may not know the specifics, but they will know, nonetheless. The test for trouble is simple: Ask yourself, “How often do I have a feeling of general discomfort concerning who my child is with, where he is and what he’s doing?” If your answer is once a month or more, then you better take a closer look. Don’t ignore the signs.
Remember also that at some point in time, even the most self-respecting teen may drink a beer or two, smoke a joint and/or tread dangerously close to “too far” sexually. There’s a difference between minor experimentation and a problem. The difference is made by parents who care enough to be aware.
I see nothing wrong with parents mandating that a teen get involved in a certain activity as long as that mandate is the exception rather than the rule. Part of our job, after all, is to help create and maintain “well-roundedness” in our children’s lives. If we see a gap, we have every right to fill it - if our children won’t take the initiative to do so. Oftentimes, a teenager’s reluctance to get involved in something is based on inadequate information, misperception or the unfounded fear that he or she won’t “fit in.”
Sometimes it pays to remind ourselves that we really do know best.
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Rosemond Charlotte Observer