Nowhere is the proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” more relevant than on our Island, where everyone knows everyone and there’s a strong sense of community that makes you feel that we are all looking out for one another.
From the time our children begin pre-school and develop relationships, we begin to look out for and care about our children’s friends as we would our own. We get to know the parents of our children’s friends and develop alliances that are very important as the kids get older and begin to spend more time away from us and with their friends’ families. There is a wonderful sense of security in knowing the other parents and developing trust in them to watch out for our kids and make responsible decisions for them, as we do for theirs in turn.
Unfortunately, as our kids mature and move on to the high school, things change quickly.
They develop relationships with kids from all over the Island. Then, we not only do not know their friends but more importantly their friends’ parents. It is at this time that it becomes clear that there are differences in what some parents think is acceptable in terms of overseeing their teens’ activities, and, more importantly, parents’ position on underage drinking and, even in some cases, drug use. This can leave parents feeling isolated and alone and unsure how to rebuild the network of parents that they can trust to make good decisions for their teens when in their care.
The Island Youth Task Force is extending a hand to help bridge this gap. The task force has created a Safe Homes Pledge Program. This program, while offered in previous years to younger kids, is now being offered to all parents in a much more user-friendly application. Not only is it now available online at the YTF web site, but it now affords parents the ability to access it 24 hours a day to get names, addresses, and contact information of other parents who pledge to create a safe, chaperoned, drug- and alcohol-free environment in which their teens can hang out. While socially very few ninth through twelfth graders want parents to talk to one another, this tool takes that decision out of their hands and puts it back in the hands of the parents, where it belongs.
If you are one of those parents who feel it is okay to allow teens to gather unsupervised or that it is okay for them to drink in your home, you may find this whole concept of creating a parents’ network futile and outdated. But, before you brush this concept off, perhaps you could think more long-term about what your position on these issues might have on your own teen and, in turn, on his/her friends.
If you do not condone drinking but just leave your teen home alone unsupervised for hours or overnight, you need to be realistic and know that (with the help of technology) within 15 minutes your home could be targeted as the place to drink for the night, and you could be putting your own teen in the very awkward position of having to deal with the consequences of your decision. And, once the drinking begins, teens can get hurt, damage property, and in some tragic cases leave your home and kill themselves or others. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a database of parents that would be willing to do drivebys or be available to your son/daughter if they were needed?
If you do feel it’s okay for teens to have a few drinks, as long as they are safe in your home, you need to understand that it is not safe, because although you may have their keys, you will probably be asleep when they are ready to leave, and teens can be very resourceful. Even if a teen doesn’t get into an accident, by creating a safe place for them to drink, you are allowing them to be exposed to dangerous levels of alcohol, which we now know can severely interfere with normal brain development at a very critical time. I can’t imagine you can look in the eyes of one of these teens and honestly say that you wish this for them, even though your actions, or inactions, can be responsible, even if you have the best of intentions.
Finally, with the new social host liability law, there are substantial fines and potential civil and criminal charges that you could be facing if a teen in your care is found to be drinking on your property, even if they don’t get into an accident.
Things won’t change for our teens until parent attitudes change in relation to alcohol and its role in their young lives. Unlike the ’60s and ’70s, we now have research to confirm that the younger a child begins drinking, the more dramatic the negative impact on their brain development and cognitive abilities, in addition to increasing the chances that they could become an alcoholic later in life.
Clearly, eliminating only a few venues won’t stop teens who are determined to drink, but it will definitely help to reduce access to alcohol for teens who may be ambivalent about drinking and do so only because of peer pressure. It might also draw the activity more into the light, where the teens get caught sooner, and the behavior is impeded before irreparable damage is done.
The Safe Home Pledge deserves consideration by parents. The more parents that sign the pledge, the greater the chances of its success. Find the pledge online at http://mvyouthtaskforce.org and check out all the other valuable information the task force’s invaluable staffers, Theresa Manning and Jamie Vanderhoop, have assembled for parents about underage drinking and drug use. Friend them on facebook at Youth-Task-Force-MV and join the conversation. Theresa and Jamie also invite you to call them anytime, (508) 696-5304
The writer is a member of the Youth Task Force.