My husband and I have entered our teen years. We are managing offspring of that age group. The teen years are indeed annoying, although not exactly in the fashion for which we were given warning by friends who lived through these years and seem normal except for their Captain Queeg hand activities. Our teen is annoying because she is far more righteous than we. Apart from truly appalling taste in toenail polish and shoes that look as if they were designed for unionized railroad blacksmiths, we have a 15-year-old who meets deadlines better than her mother and chastises her father for swearing.
Oddly, the biggest problems we have encountered in our teen years come from our peers. While we could not be considered residents of a wealthy area, parents of teens in our area have adopted a strange custom once limited to children with the surname Helmsley or Corleone. They award vehicles to their 16-year-olds. I believe age 16 is too young to imbibe the phenylketonurics in Diet Coke, let alone assume unsupervised responsibility for a used Chevy Blazer on streets wherein left-hand turns are required.Other pressure comes from schools that actually facilitate and encourage independence for the Oxy 5 crowd. May the saints be with you should you pass by a high school at the beginning of the lunch hour. Young people with more piercings than digits emerge from school parking lots in vehicles at Space Shuttle speeds to begin the search for beefy burritos and Joe Camel. In my high school days, there was a man named Augie with one strand of thinning hair above his collar who exhibited the efficacy of German border guards in halting exits. Whipped potatoes and peas in the salmon-pink and clover-green cafeteria looked good in comparison to Augie power.
There is also job pressure because the 1990's goal is a crummy job for every high schooler. Nike Vietnamese sweatshop workers log fewer hours than our Chumbawumba fans. I blame the schools for their lack of homework and slacker curricula that afford students the free time for the depths of the Baskin-Robbins' freezers and daily scooping. I could barely finish my trig cosines if I baby-sat one night each week, and there are sophomores toiling at sales in car dealerships.
Finally, there is enormous Al Gore and his merry band of social activists' pressure for these teens to do volunteer work. Schools and scholarship programs mandate volunteer work. Honor society has as much to do with crisis center work as it does with grades. I did my high school volunteer work every day with a jug of Pine Sol and a can of Pledge. It was called helping my mother. Chores at home were once satisfactory in lieu of enlightened and exalted service.
Under current teen management practices, we have seen to it that these young people are kept as far away from home as possible, preferably under no supervision. Independence is touted as recognition of their maturity. They wear Tweety-Bird T-shirts and carry Rugrat key chains. Beneath the physical maturity are children with far too much independence and far too little nurturing.
In September 1997, the Journal of the American Medical Association published the work of Michael D. Resnick who, using data from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health, found common factors that contribute to teens' use of cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. Those factors are: having low grade point averages; appearing older than peers; and working 20 or more hours per week.
Resnick also found factors that protect children from cigarette, alcohol and tobacco use: high levels of connectedness to parents and family members; frequent parental presence in the home; and high levels of school connectedness. Clinton's midnight basketball program did not make the list.
Apparently, the contributing factors are winning over the protective ones. The 1997 figures on juveniles show that 38 percent of all high school seniors used drugs during the past year and 24 percent had used them in the preceding month. Forty percent of all high school seniors use alcohol. My daughter says the figures are "way low."
Keeping them in school and at school, curbing work hours and letting them spend a little time without wheels in a world graced with slightly more innocence, a little more of the "Crucible" and exclusively institutional food for lunch are quite possibly the very simple solutions to the complex problems we adults are compounding. Social problems often have simple solutions that are infinitely difficult in their execution. To keep kids at home and in school, parents must first withstand peer pressure and then spend time at home themselves.
My daughter wants a car and a job for her 16th birthday. We care too much to give her either. Now if I could just get the schools and other parents to help me out with this, our children would have a fighting chance in a world that allows and encourages far too much too soon. My biggest problem in coping with the teen years is misguided adults.