Guest Column1/22/09

Do parents know what their kids are doing?

Jan. 22, 2009

By Steve Hyde

Do you know what your child is doing when you are not around? There is growing evidence that you don’t.

The book “Reality Gap” by Stephen Wallace, executive director of Students Against Destructive Decisions, commonly known as SADD, reflects the findings of his research that clearly indicate that kids are engaging in dangerous and destructive behaviors and activities that parents are not aware of. In fact, he found that many parents believe just the opposite, that their children are engaging in positive and productive behaviors. A few statistics that he cites include the following: the average age for alcohol initiation is now 13 (that is seventh or eighth grade); by 12th grade 3 in 4 teens are drinking; and 53 percent of high school students report having engaged in sexual activity.

Stephen Wallace has my attention now. Does he have yours? The statistics for our supervisory union, as reported on the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, reflect some similarities — 48 percent of 11th to 12th graders had had sexual intercourse and 61 percent of 12th graders had admitted to binge drinking. And there are those specific events like the recent automobile crashes, the criminal drug activities that led to the arrest of a Champlain Valley Union High School student and the tragic events that occurred online and led to a young boy in Essex taking his own life.

There is a lot going on in our teenagers’ lives that we don’t know about or choose not to know about. Either way, our children are at risk. We would like to think that all of the time we invested in developing a trusting and open relationship with our children when they were younger would continue into their teenage years, but sadly that is often not the case. It is hard to acknowledge and accept that our children do not always exhibit the values that we have so arduously tried to instill in them, but we must. This is not a statement of blame, but a reminder that teenagers are still growing and developing and need us to be as engaged with their development now as we were when they were 1 year old and their dependence was so clear.

And while it is very developmentally appropriate for kids to begin to separate from the standard bearers in their lives, the process of doing so may result in behaviors like lying, limit testing and social aggression. With age, such seemingly benign behaviors manifest themselves in more dangerous behaviors like substance use and abuse, sexual activity and even criminality.

We need to get engaged in these young teenagers’ lives and find out what is going on. There is just too much at risk not to know.

To get us started on this road to reengaging our children, CY, Connecting Youth, is bringing Stephen Wallace to our district to speak to parents and students at 7 p.m. on March 17 at CVU. Prior to Wallace’s visit and conversation, all of the schools in the supervisory union will be holding “Dialogue Nights” for their students and parents to begin to lay the foundation to build the bridge that will span this reality gap. For more information, visit www.seewhy.info.

Steve Hyde is chairman of Connecting Youth in Chittenden County’s Parent Education Com