Many towns and cities have created a coalition with a mission of reducing teen drinking, and the percentages from crime statistics and student surveys are showing a slight decrease in reported incidents. These coalitions spend thousands of tax payer dollars on education and awareness initiatives that may very well be helping to bring this serious problem to the surface. One particular awareness activity is the town hall style meeting, where members of youth service organizations, police departments, school personnel, faith-based organizations, local business owners, parents and youth, all come together to discuss the problem and progress.
The one group mentioned above whose presence seems to be lacking a bit at these events is the parents; the individuals one would think has the ultimate responsibility when their child or teen participates in inappropriate activities. I find it interesting how parents sound off on topics such as bullying and teen drinking, but when an event is pulled together to address it, very few turn out. Several years ago I was invited to be the keynote speaker at a large conference on bullying. The organizing committee secured the city’s convention center and anticipated 2000 – 3000 to turn out. Vendor tables were set up from all sorts of related agencies and local radio, TV, and government personalities were lined up to meet and greet the parents. The local media put this event at the top of their list for news stories several weeks in advance. I volunteered my time to make media rounds, appearing on several mainstream networks and the most popular radio stations to promote the event and offer tips. But a disappointing 800 people showed up and it was estimated that 70 – 80% of that number were either affiliated with the event itself or school administrators. Where were the parents? I suspect that they were home (or perhaps still at work) feeling the stress of the jobs, their families, or just too tired to come out.
So why are we not making parents more accountable in their role as a parent? Why are we so ready to punish the child or the predator, but the parents go free? How many times have we seen a talk show featuring an adolescent victim of a crime and his or her parents, chomping at the bit to confront the predator to get justice? But where was that parent when that child was in the wrong place at the wrong time without them knowing. Or where was that parent when his or her child was communicating online with no supervision or drinking alcohol? I think it’s about time that we begin holding parents accountable for the actions of their children and teens. In a survey of students that was conducted in the area where I live, 30% of those surveyed reported getting alcohol from their friends, 17% said they get it at home with their parent’s permission, and 13% stated they get it at home without their parents knowing about it!
I say that it’s time to begin charging parents of children and teens who participate in dangerous or illegal activities with neglect and the punishment should be community service time. It has been my experience that parents give the responsibility of “parenting” a very small percentage of their focus and attention. The majority goes to their job, paying the bills, and other adult stresses. And then it seems that if they have anything left, they’ll maybe turn it to parenting. Imagine how much more serious an adult might take their critical role as a parent if there was a consequence that effected them directly and personally. Perhaps then the parent might become more engaged in knowing where their child or teen is going and who they are spending time with. Perhaps then parents might begin drawing lines as to who their child can spend time with and where they are allowed to roam.
Some of you reading this post may take offense. If so, perhaps it’s your own guilt that is generating the feeling of being offended. Others will agree with me and know in their heart that they do everything necessary to build boundaries for their children and know exactly where they go and who they spend time with. Too many parents have come to me for help with a behavior issue, but quickly lay it down that forbidding their child from going somewhere or taking away social media is out of the question. They don’t want to have to deal with the child’s anger, explosive disagreements, and arguments when rules and limitations are tightened up. Many divorced or single parents live in fear of hearing their child say, “I hate this house, I want to go live with dad (mom)!” so they let their child do what they want to avoid that threat. Parent educators and government officials must encourage parents to stop allowing their child or teen to have the upper hand through fear and intimidation and take ownership where ownership is due. It’s time that parents step up and take responsibility for their child’s or teen’s behavior and actions, before bad things happen to them, not after the fact!