"Parents are coming home late - often after the dinner hour. (This has) broken down the traditional nature of the family. Metro could help, maybe. Why, Metro, you ask? If working parents could come home earlier in the evening and leave later in the morning, they could spend more time in the home . . . obviously, the County Council can't mandate love, but they can do something about these problems."
Carolyn Trimble, president of the Rockville High School Student Government Association.
Since last week, Montgomery County Executive James P. Gleason and the County Council have been listening to parents, agency representatives and senior high school students talk about the problems of youth. The hearings grew out of Gleason's tours of the county and his talks with young people.
Gleason has set up a special task force to investigate the problems of youth, blacks, elderly, handicapped and others he felt had been missed by county services. The current series of seven youth hearings - the first of their kind countywide, according to Gleason - will last through Dec. 19 and hopefully give Gleason and the council ideas on where and how to spend money and resources for youth.
The problems cited are the ones that county officials and residents have winced about for years - family tension, juvenile delinquency, alcohol and drug abuse problems, student dissatisfaction with school.
The 50 students who attended the hearing in the Rockville High auditorium were mostly student council presidents and members. They were earnest, mainly white, and often conservative. They talked clearly, quickly and sometimes emotionally about the problems and needs of Montgomery County youth in public senior high schools. They talked about student apathy in one instant and student pressure in another.
"There is pressure from parents and other adults to succeed by their standards," said David Naimon of the Montgomery County Region of the Maryland Association of Student Governments. "Someone goes by those standards and finds they've lost their childhood because they've been acting like an adult."
Woodward High School senior Randee Bernstein had just finished testifying about her classmate who had committed suicide only a few days before. She made a plea for more peer counseling, where students are trained to listen to the problems of other students.
"There are suicides," she said afterwards. "You just never hear about them. They don't think things like this can happen. People who are brought up in this kind of environment have a lot of time to think about their problems."
The students asked for more preventive measures. They decried poor police-student relations and student vandalism, with some calling for stricter juvenile laws and others calling for better hall monitors. They realized that drug and alcohol abuse were still around, and it seemed to scare them.
Poolesville High student Cornelia Sears recounted the recently publicized story of a Virginia youth who died after drinking a large quantity of alcohol supposedly as part of an initiation rite staged by his friends.
"Here's an example of a senseless teenage death," Sears told the county officials. "If the quality of alcohol education is not improved, we might end up with similar things." The audience applauded loudly.
"I must say you people who are testifying are really well-prepared," Gleason told the audience mid-way through the hearing.
The parents who testified a few days later also said the problems of their tenn-aged sons and daughters should be recognized and dealth with - but will less bureaucratic entanglement.
"You've seen those signs that say 'teen help'? Call one. You get two numbers from where you can call. Then you get six more numbers, then 36," said one mother who testified that she spent a year and a half trying to find adequate help for her drug and alcohol abusive son.
"We went to a community psychiatric clinic in Bethesda," she replied. "They wanted the whole family to come in. But if you really had total family involvement would you have the problem in the first place?"
Then there was the "merry-go-round" of the courts, she said - waiting all day to see the public defender, waiting in court, then sending the youth to a Baltimore center for observation. She said it took months before the court finally assigned her son to Karma Academy, the treatment center where he shaped up.
"Do you know the last thing that got my child to the court was his stealing two scanners from the police?" she said.
"Until the various agencies get their act together they can't do anything," observed Council vice-president Elizabeth Scull. She said money should be put aside for schools to perform alternative and vocational services parents and students had asked for. "But it should be done without taking money out of the school budget."