Is there such a thing as carefree youth?
By Christine Stanley I spent a fair chunk of the past three weeks talking with young students and educators about drug use among middle-school-aged children. The information I gathered wasn’t that surprising – a handful of bold and curious tweenagers are smuggling alcohol from their parents’ liquor cabinets and begging bags of weed off older friends and siblings. Are things really all that different and extreme than when you were in school? Perhaps, but likely not.What I found especially interesting wasn’t the number of binge-drinking sixth-graders (there were a few), it was the number of students, from both the middle school and high school, who on their own broached the issue of parent involvement as a leading factor of drug and alcohol use. Meanwhile, teachers and administrators tiptoed around the subject as if political correctness is once again serving to squelch legitimate finger pointing. The single student who said he wished his parents would pay less attention to him happened to be a 13-year-old gang member who had been involved with alcohol and marijuana for more than a year and has been suspended from school more than a handful of times – exactly the kid who needs increased care and support. Of the other young users I spoke with, every single one reported difficulties at home, ranging from frequent parent absence to divorce to emotional stress. A few students even said that their parents know of their drug or alcohol use and either allow it, by hosting social events in the home so that kids can do what they wish in a “safe” place, or by turning a blind eye completely. Many students expressed dismay with the quality of parenting that they or their peers are receiving. I’m told there was a day when mischievous youngsters caught misbehaving were reprimanded by concerned neighbors and community members, and – gasp – parents were even contacted. But now there is social stigma surrounding such reactions — “How dare you parent my child. Are you saying I’m not doing my job?”One mother of a troubled eighth-grader reportedly had been contacted at least three times regarding her son’s behavior and use of marijuana. Her reaction: a thank you to the calling party and a click of the receiver. Blame MTV and peer pressure all you want, but I can assure you that until parents place their children first – before jobs and social galas and bad-mouthing their exes – the idea of a carefree adolescence will slowly dissolve.Christine Stanley covers education issues for the Sierra Sun. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org