I am a high school student, and I attend Leesville as a junior. On Tuesday, January 30, I attended the parent seminar sponsored by the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) discussing teen’s destructive decisions. From 7-9 p.m, members of the Leesville community gathered in the school auditorium to discuss relevant and difficult issues affecting today’s teenagers such as drugs, alcohol, peer pressure, mental illness, and suicide.
Attending the event were various members of the Wake County School Board, Dr. A.J. Muttillo, the entirety of the Leesville Student Services Department, a drug abuse counselor, a couple of parents involved in the creation of the Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) chapter in Pitt County, as well as many concerned parents.
Yes, that was me; sitting in the back — the lone teenager in a sea of parents. I observed scared, worried parents that were alarmed by recent events dealing with drug overdoses and deaths of former Leesville students. While I understand your concern, I left that meeting frustrated. I was frustrated with the conversation, I was frustrated with the creation of what I deemed as an “echo chamber”.
We’ve probably all heard this term — especially in today’s age of ‘fake news’ — but if you are unfamiliar or need a refresher, Oxford Dictionary defines an echo chamber as “an environment in which a person encounters only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own, so that their existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas are not considered.”
From a teen’s perspective, I felt that the gathering of parents was a space where you, as concerned parents, could vent about your problems and frustration with your high school students. You seemed to share ideas on ways that you could ‘micromanage’ your children…never pausing to consider the consequences of your discipline in response to their destructive decisions. Please, hear me out.
I am not a parent. I don’t know what it is like to be a parent. Today’s world is a scary place. There are dangers around every corner; and I’m sure it is very, very difficult to raise a child in such an uncertain environment. Therefore, I will not try to judge because I have never been responsible for raising another human being.
So, I ask you to consider as you read this letter: I will try to keep your perspective in mind, and I challenge you to keep mine in mind. Please, remember I am a high schooler. I have so much to learn in life, and I cannot even begin to imagine what it is like as a parent.
After much reflection and meaningful conversation, I have reached a conclusion for my takeaway from the meeting — my takeaway as a student, an outsider. Here are my conclusions:
- High school is a unique experience.
To be blunt, high school is scary. There are drugs, there is alcohol, there is bullying and mental illness and suicide. In my opinion, you cannot go through high school without personally experiencing or knowing of someone that experiences these things. So, yes, your student has probably encountered at least one of the things I listed above. I hate to use this term, but, it’s inevitable.
We, as students and teenagers, will encounter drugs or alcohol, or people that use drugs or alcohol. Think back to your teenage years: You most likely experienced or encountered these “destructive” things during your own high school days. For a second, think like a teenager.
Teenagers value loyalty and trust; teenagers want to be liked. And, to an extent, these same values tend to extend into adult life. It’s inherently self-preservationist–we want to be liked, we want to be wanted. We want to preserve our image or friend group. That’s where peer pressure takes its hold. Peer pressure searches and searches until it finds our weakness–our self-worth. And, we base this self-worth on someone’s perception or opinion of us.
Therefore, when we see our friends using drugs or alcohol, our weakness is targeted. We want to be liked, we want people to want to hang out with us. This desire, this weakness, sometimes leads high school students to make destructive decisions; and, in complete honesty, it probably lead you to those same decisions that you try so hard to protect your kid from.
Now, you may disagree, but these destructive decisions are not the end of the world. Teens are probably going to smoke marijuana, teens are probably going to drink — we are probably going to make these bad decisions. However, these bad decisions are not–I repeat: are not–a reflection of your parenting.
Put on your teen shoes; you probably also made these decisions. Does that mean that you had bad parents? Does that mean that somewhere, somehow, your parents made a huge mistake? Probably not. Your parents most likely tried very hard to be the best parents they could be–just like you. But their parenting did not cause you to make those decisions. You made those decisions because you were a teen, you made those decisions because you were in a time in your life where you wanted to try new things.
Trust me, I am not trying to tell you how to parent. I wouldn’t even know where to start–I don’t know the first thing about raising a child. However, I am trying to provide you with teen insight.
- We want to draw our own lines.
Each person has a different idea of what constitutes as a ‘destructive decision’. From what I gathered, the parents reached a similar conclusion: any use of drugs or alcohol is a destructive decision. Now, this is a stereotype. You may not agree with this conclusion. But, for time’s sake, we are going to run with the stereotype.
However, for teens, they may draw a different line. Personally, I believe that as long as the person is not harming themself or others, and they are achieving success then it’s not a destructive decision. Implications of this may be a straight-A high school student that smokes marijuana once a week or so to relax. Sure, it’s illegal. However, I will not report that to an adult. As long as the student is safe and reaching levels of success–usually measured by school performance–then I don’t see it as a problem. It’s not my business what they choose to do. But, my line is drawn when that same student starts smoking multiple times a week, and they start failing their classes. When I see that the decisions they are making are negatively impacting them and their success, I consider reporting the problem to an adult.
Similarly, a student that drinks casually on the weekend with their friends does not necessarily concern me. However, if that student tries to drink and drive, or regularly uses alcohol to escape their problems, I consider reporting them to an adult.
Parents, high school students want to create their own lines. They want to be able to define their own beliefs and determine for themselves when something becomes a problem. This does not mean you have to agree with them. In fact, I’d rather you not agree with them. Disagreement opens up opportunities for discussion, and discussion and meaningful conversation leads to open communication and better trust.
- We need to know we have avenues for help.
Teens will report their friends. When we draw our own lines, we stick to them. We try to do the right thing.
But why would we report them? It goes against our basic need for self-preservation. There is always a chance that the person would find out. Additionally, if we interfere with their life, they might hate us. And, as humans, we cannot have anybody hate us.
However, we have to make a decision. Would we rather our friend hate us, or would we rather attend their funeral? I’ll let that sink in.
Would we rather our friend hate us or would we rather attend their funeral?
When evaluating whether or not to report someone, we must all decide that. However, sadly, we sometimes still choose not to report our friend.
Why? Because it takes courage. In order to make an impact, we must take a leap and trust that the outcome will result in a better situation. We must risk being hated in order to help our friend. And that’s hard. Not just for teens, but for all people–it’s hard to be courageous because it would mean stepping out of our comfort zone.
But sometimes, we take that leap. Sometimes, we act courageously. And when we do, we want to know there is someone there to help us build our wings along the way.
We might brush it off as cheesy or too serious, but reassuring teens that you as an adult will be there to support them is really important. Because, maybe–just maybe–when they are making the decision to take the leap, knowing that you are there to support them will push them a little closer to the courageous decision that may save a life.
So, that leads me into my final point:
- Talk with us.
I don’t mean that you should have deep conversations about decision making with every teen you come across. Instead, get to know us. High schoolers aren’t just a statistic or a broad group of generally similar people. We are people: we have our own interests and hobbies and dreams–just like you. We–not just parents, but us as humans–should strive to learn who each person is as an individual, instead of the stereotype that they give off.
Conversation, even if it’s about something as mundane as the weather or classes, builds trust and relationships. And maybe those relationships will lead to deeper conversations. Because teens know the issues. We see them everyday, in every class, in our friends and peers. We see destructive decisions and their impacts. And, we have solutions. They may not work, but we still want to share our insight and solutions with adults–the people with the power. We want to be heard.
So, the next time you talk about creating communication between parents, schools, and the community, open that triangle to a square. Invite students to the conversation — we have insight and solutions you may not even think of. We can all learn from each other.
I am genuinely thankful that you took the time to read this letter. I may just be one voice of many, but by reading this and considering my insight–even if you disagree (like I said before–I welcome disagreements, I welcome discussion)–it could be one small step to making a difference in Leesville, the community, and the world.