I spend a good deal of time researching current teen trends among “tweens”, teens and young adults through CDC statistics, the American Psychological Institute, and various law enforcement agencies. Once I find what I am searching for – a current trend that should be concerning to parents – I find that spending a little time on teen sites, teen blogs, and hot spots for teens on the web adds another dimension to the research.
Recently, as I was surfing through some research, I found two “new” trends that concerned me. First, teen violence is on the rise. Teens seem to believe - more than ever – that the way to solve their problems is with violence. Second, teens are using bath salts – smoking or injecting – to get high. This is a new twist to the old problem of teens using household products and family medications to get high. Over the next few weeks I will be discussing both of these trends.
According to the CDC, 33% of high school student have been in a physical fight. Additionally, 17% of the high school students interviewed admitted to taking a weapon to school in the previous 30 days. That statistic alone is terribly frightening to me! In a high school with a student population of 1,000, that would mean that 170 of them are armed! Okay, so we are not talking about everyone toting a gun in their book bag. Some are steak knives given to them for their lunch. But these items can still be used as weapons and there is no guarantee that it cannot be taken from your student and used by someone else. In 2000, 9% of the murders in the U.S. were committed by persons under the age of 18. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers. While statistics currently report that males are more violent than females I have to be honest and tell you that I hold great concern for female teens based upon the violence I have seen from this group in the past few years. I have overhead in malls, grocery stores, and on school campuses: “If she doesn’t shut her mouth, I am going to smack her down…make her hurt…cut her good…give her some real pain…” These sentiments are expressed by a variety of ages, from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, belonging to a variety of interest groups with the only factor in common being that they are female. Enrollment in anger management classes should be on the rise, because these teens definitely do not know how to deal with their anger. It is culture-shock for me because I was raised in a family and in a region where women were not supposed to get angry and if they did, no one else should be able to tell. For a long time in my life, feelings of anger produced tears because I did not know how to effectively express anger. The female teenagers and young adults that I experience do not know how to deal with anger either – but they are at the polar opposite of where I spent my years with a lack of proper anger management.
As parents, it is our responsibility to teach our children the proper way to deal with the disappointments and hurts that often generate anger. We first need to be listening to our teens in an effort to know what upsets them and how they currently deal with these problems. My starting point for almost every parenting situation is to “keep the lines of communication open.” If we can manage this, events in the lives of our children generally do not get too far out of hand before we are aware. We also have to set the right example for our children to follow. I realize that many of you probably do not think that your children really listen to anything you say or observe anything you do. You are so wrong. I thought this was true with my oldest daughter, but since she has been in a situation where she is the stepmother for two wonderful children, she has told me so many times that my “words of wisdom” that I shared with her so many times are very helpful to her. It is wonderful to know that she really was listening and she has convinced me that most teens do listen to their parents – so make your words worth hearing! LISTEN carefully to what they tell you and give the soundest, strongest, most informed advice that you can give them. Don’t be afraid to tell them that you don’t have an answer, but that you can help them find the answer. Let them see that you really care when you consult books, other parents, counselors, etc., for information on the problem and possible solutions. Talk to them and ask them for input! Don’t just state “Do this!” Give them options (most problems do come with multiple choice solutions) as to what they think might work for them. Most importantly, make sure they know you care. Follow up! Find out how if the chosen solution worked, if you need to be more involved, if you need to help them find another answer.
Don’t get me wrong – I am NOT telling you to solve their problems for them, especially not teenagers. It is necessary to have more involvement in the problem-solving with the younger children, but teenagers are learning about independence and self-reliance. Unless the situation is one that could (or has) led to the possibility of injury (physical or emotional), you should be support and coach, but give them the chance to do the work themselves.
Your children and teens are going to benefit in many ways from this involvement on your part. First, they are going to realize how much you do care and how much you accept that they are growing up. Second, they are going to realize that you support their efforts towards self-reliance by guiding them rather than solving their problems for them. Third, you are going to learn a lot about your child or teen. You are going to find out things that will make you proud, things that will make you sad, and maybe even things that will cause you grief. But you will be happy that you have established a relationship where you find out the latest from your child or teen rather than the parent next-door or through the neighborhood grapevine. Most importantly, you and your child or teen will learn that you can work together to make life better. It will be a new dimension to your relationship and you both will be happy that you made the effort.