When I was 17, I had a fear of getting in trouble. That single motivation was one of the few things that prevented me from making stupid(er) decisions. I knew, that should I have financial or legal or disciplinary consequences, my parents were not going to save me. They would have helped me, but they would not have prevented me from facing the natural consequences of my behavior. That was 1992. We are not in 1992 anymore. The stakes are higher, the consequences are more permanent and yet, the more I observe teenagers today the more convinced I am that their perceived invincibility is arrogantly increasing.
I have teenagers in my home. I gravitate towards them naturally. When most adults are moving away from the hormones and drama, I run into the chaos like I was created for it. It is not news to those that know me that I would rather spend a day with a drug addicted 16 year-old than a 4 year-old. Any freaking day. I love the instability and maturing and immaturity and growing pains. Sure, this is hard and weighty work, but they can talk to me. I can yell at them. We can throw smack talk with vigor. And I can look them in the eye and (in a very real and no BS kind of way) hold their feet to the fire of truth and reality.
I have quite a few teenagers in my world right now. Some by way of my connections with my own kids, but not all. I don’t stay in the surface of teenage world. When we are talking about any given topic, it is never just about that subject. I’m a detective of sorts, always trying to determine what is lurking underneath the surface of their actions and angst. And, oh, do they have angst. And, oh, do I love to walk through it with them.
Recently, I have grown increasingly frustrated with what I see as an over-developed sense of being above all consequences. We could spend the next decade arguing over the cause, but that’s not really my concern. I’m more interested in the adults in their lives waking up to this reality and calling this crap on the carpet. I’m less concerned about the eye rolling and the snarky teenage responses than I am the fact that there is not a fear of getting in trouble because they don’t get in trouble.
I dabble in Snapchat. Recently, I was snapping with some teenagers (like you do). Of course, this happens while we are sitting in the same room together, so really it is like we were talking… but not. As we snapped, I realized they were receiving snaps and streaks from other friends. The content of some of these images had me in disbelief. So I pressed. The stories that their fellow classmates were sending were mind-blowing. I sat as a parent of a 13 and 17-year-old thinking to myself WHERE ARE THE ADULTS?!?! Many sent images that you would not want your college admissions counselor, teacher or parent to see. Multiple kids sent pictures of themselves doing things that were illegal. But the most shocking was the number of kids that sent pictures of their drug stash that was for sale. Piles of weed. Dime bags. Complete with prices texted over the top like they were selling Fun Dip out of their junior high locker. I. Just. Can’t. Even.
I know that pot is no big deal in the minds of so many today, but can we just stop for a second? These are teenagers. In Texas. Where pot is not legal. Selling controlled substances. Online. Like it is nothing. And for the record, pot is something. It is something. Moms and dads of the 80’s and 90’s, today’s weed is not the joint of 1989. “In the 1970s and 1980s, marijuana generally contained less than 5 percent THC. Today, the marijuana sold at legal dispensaries often contains 25 percent THC. Many people use extracts that are nearly pure THC.” With the popularity of vaping, the use of dab pens is skyrocketing and this simple addition to the cannabis scene has substantial legal and health consequences. **If you are reading this and and you don’t know what a vape or dab pen is or you are not sure about concentrates, waxes or oils, please read up. We have to know what we are up against, and eduacation is key.**
I cannot imagine being a teenager today – with the social media nightmare and instant and constant contact with the world – but this is the reality of today’s life. And with the increase of information and access, comes the increase reality of hard consequences when you mess up. That’s where the serious disconnect happens for me. ‘It’s just the way it is’ and ‘kids will be kids’ and ‘it’s not that big of a deal’ messages are placing our kids in the mindset of invincibility like never before. They think the rules don’t apply to them. They think they won’t get in trouble. They think their parents will protect them should they get caught. And the really sad part is that for many kids, this is a truth that is killing them.
So parents and teachers and mentors and coaches and pastors, we must do better. Not only do we have to teach them differently, we have to call them out and show them that they are not above the rules. They are not invincible in the eyes of injury and punishment. If we see “ads” for quality merchandise being sold in ‘D’ pod, may we be brave enough to turn them in. Even if it means they may lose a scholarship or title or a special award. Even if it means that they may lose the starting position on the team. Even if it means that you become THAT parent. May we show the kids that are choosing to play by the rules that we will not continue to cover for those that it seems easier to protect. May we encourage doing the right thing, even when the right thing feels so very hard. Our kids are worth it. And they need us to remind them everyday and in every way that we have their back, even if having their back means calling them to face very hard and real consequences.