When it comes to parenting teens, there tend to be three schools of thought:
The first: This generation of teenagers is worse than ever.
The second: This generation is just as bad as previous rebellious kids.
And the third, also known as the only one that matters: This is my kid and I am terrified.
Those with the latter perspective will not be soothed by this month’s Bethesda Magazine cover story on the out-of-control behavior of area teens.
In “Wasted Youth,” Gabriele McCormick, a freelance writer and an acquaintance, describes an atmosphere that has become ever more accepting, even encouraging of, binge drinking and reckless, dangerous antics. (The issue is on newsstands but will not be available online until later this month.)
It also explores how parents are often oblivious or make matters worse.
One Montgomery police officer told McCormick that when police intervene, parents sometimes try to shield their drunken kids. “They think we’re ruining their kids’ lives with a citation,” the officer said, “but they’re really not paying attention to what’s going on.”
McCormick spent eight months delving into the subject after she met a 16-year-old who was part of one of Montgomery’s youth-focused Alcoholics Anonymous programs. She researched recent local incidents that have led to arrests or to more tragic outcomes and interviewed police, school officials and students, including some recent graduates of top area schools who say partying has become even harder since they left.
Observers in McCormick’s piece said a primary culprit of this form of teen rebellion is the increasing pressure kids feel to perform well in school. The greater stress leads kids to search for a greater release.
“Many of the teens I talked to said that they felt like their parents had extremely high expectations of them,” McCormick told me. “They were expected to get good grades, take AP classes, be stellar athletes, be in clubs, participate in extracurricular activities and above all, get into a top college. They could only stand so much rigidity in their scheduling and pressure to perform.
“For many, that translated into letting loose on the weekends and getting trashed. It’s not that they blamed their parents, but they felt that if they worked that hard during the week, they were entitled to party that hard on the weekends.”
Though she doesn’t extrapolate out that behavior in Montgomery County is reflective of a national shift, her piece does raise the specter that parents’ efforts on behalf of a child are creating unintended consequences.
From an increasing focus on academic achievements to the worry that a police record will dash a child’s future, a parent’s meddling might be making teen rebellion and its consequences worse.
And, for McCormick, it was disturbing, too, how oblivious parents seemed to be.
“I’ve raised three sons (now 23, 20 and 18) and I thought nothing would surprise me, but I was wrong,” she said. “ I was very disconcerted by the discrepancy between what parents thought was going on and what kids were telling me was going on.
“For example, one mom told me she thought her teenage daughter was drinking maybe once a month. The daughter told me she was drinking every weekend — sometimes Friday and Saturday night.
“My youngest son just started college this fall, so he was living at home through the research stage of the article. It made me wonder what he was really doing out there. The great part, though, was that I would tell him about some of the things I had learned and it led to some very open and honest conversations between us.”
Are you a parent of a teen who has witnessed more intense partying? What do you think is the cause? What do you think is the remedy?