Blame It On the Alcohol
I sat riveted to the TV, watching the story of the alleged sexual abuse scandal at Vanderbilt University unfold. A story that will undoubtedly change the course of life for all the teenagers and young adults involved. Can we really blame it on the alcohol?
To have made it to that college, must have taken a lot of sacrifice, effort, determination and persistence. You must have had some goals and sense of purpose. So what happened to simple human decency, and the rules by which society lives? What happened to people’s conscience and morality, and the golden rule of doing unto others only what you would want them to do to you? Would anyone want to see that happen to a family member? How then does no one say a word to stop the alleged assault?
Is it really the alcohol or should we teach our younger generation to learn to take responsibility for their actions. One very unfortunate fact though is that teens are drinking and doing drugs at the very time when their prefrontal cortex, the seat of reasoning and impulse control, and good judgment is developing. Teens, unlike most adults, don’t pause long enough to think of the consequences of their actions, and have not quite mastered the art of impulse control because that part of the brain, is not developed until about age 25.
Does that mean then that teenagers should blame their maturing brains for their lack of judgment? Or blame the alcohol? How can we as parents help our teens in this vulnerable stage, when even though they are the size of an adult, their brains are lagging behind in development? Add to this raging hormones, and the effect of peer pressure. This can be a recipe for disaster if all the emotion is not harnessed well.
What can parents do, to protect our children, even when they are not with us? No one has all the answers, but here are a few suggestions.
1. Communication! Communication! Communication!
As I always say, “Talk to your kids otherwise someone else will, and you won’t like what they have to say.” This must start way before the teenage years. You build rapport in the younger ages, when your children actually want to communicate with you, and it pays dividends in the teen years. By taking the time to listen, you discover your child’s “preferred” method of communication. Is it after school, when they come home and are eager for just a moment to let their guard down and talk? Is it whilst you listen to the radio or watch TV and an interesting topic comes up? Or is it at the family dinner table, when everyone is talking about their day? Your children must feel comfortable talking to you and must never be made to feel that you don’t have time for them. If they get this message, they close up and you have to work harder to gain their trust again.
2. Instill your faith and family values in them.
We need to take time to teach our teens about faith and the fact that we don’t just live in the moment and do whatever we please. If you truly believe that there is a God who sees you and watches you, in my opinion, it does affect some of the decisions and actions you take. What about people who don’t believe in God or any higher power? I truly believe that everyone has a moral compass in their being, and it is imperative that we teach teens how to use it. It is wise to teach them your values until they develop their own.
3. Teach Accountability
Teaching accountability must start from early on in life. Too many modern parents are so riddled with guilt about how they have to work to support their families, that they are quick to jump in and rescue their children each time they do something wrong. Parents blame the teachers, the coaches, other students etc. It is always someone else’s fault. With time, kids learn that they can get away with anything because their parents are always making excuses for them. As teens grow older, they blame their friends, the drugs or alcohol, anyone or anything but themselves. As painful as it is, it is so important to have teens suffer the consequences of their actions, when it really doesn’t matter. As the saying goes, “fail small.” Discuss the consequences of their action, and stick to it. That way, they will at least ask themselves, “What will dad or mom do if they find out about this?” If they know they have to answer to you, they will think before they act.
4. Put systems in place to protect your teens
As I mentioned earlier, the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps you think of the consequences of your actions, where mature and logical thinking takes place is not fully developed until about age 25. Unfortunately our teens go off to college way before this. That is why teens should be taught to choose their friends wisely. It takes courage at that age, to stand up for yourself, to go against the grain, and yet heroes are born every day because they dared to take a stand. The worst time to act is when your friends are egging you on to do something, which you know is morally wrong. Take a step back and evaluate the situation. Do you even want to be present or should you bow out gracefully. Should you consider the people around you “friends” or do they just have a “mob mentality” and encourage you to do what you know is wrong. Should you contact an adult or other person of authority, who will have more of an impact than you? It takes courage to do the right thing, but it could save a life.
5. Talk about drugs and alcohol.
It is almost a fact of life now, that there is underage drinking on college campuses and the use of illicit drugs. Most teens have been led to believe Marijuana is not a drug. Teenagers claim the alcohol and drugs make them feel “loose”. As a result, they make friends more easily and have fun at parties. Be honest, and strongly discourage this. Talk about drugs and alcohol at an early age. And if you suspect your teen is using drugs, take it seriously. At a time, when the brain is maturing and developing, the onslaught of these foreign substances can have far reaching consequences and can significantly alter the course of your child’s life. Young, bright teens whose lives hold so much promise, are destroyed and their parents are left wondering what they could have done to prevent this. The worst part of it is that these substances affect everyone differently and your child may be the one who gets hooked and has his future destroyed. Don’t leave it to the schools to have this discussion. Take the lead and talk to your teens honestly and frequently about this. They may act like they are not listening but believe me they are. It is worth it. Would you really sacrifice your child’s future and hope for a “friendship” with them now?
So even as we have all been shocked this week by these life changing events, my heart goes out to all the youth and families involved. The young lady at the center of it all, who was allegedly assaulted and betrayed by a friend she trusted, whilst under the influence. How disappointed, seriously hurt and scarred she must feel. The young men whose lives will be forever changed because of a serious lapse in judgment, where no one had the courage to stand up and say “NO!”, and of course, all the parents involved. I can’t imagine the pain they must feel, to have your child’s life, hopes and dreams just dashed to pieces before your very eyes.
Tell me what you think.
How can we protect our children? How could things have been done differently, to be certain that this does not happen to anyone else?