Helping teens understand dangerous behaviorPublished 9:30am Saturday, September 8, 2012
Column: Maryanne Law, Families First
Question: How much danger is my teen in if he’s friends with kids who are into alcohol, marijuana and shoplifting?
Answer: It might be helpful to talk with your teenager about the tachometer on the dashboard of a car. On every tachometer there is a red line. If you rev the motor beyond the red line, you are going to blow the motor. A lot of adolescent drivers, and some adults, believe that if they rev the motor up just short of that red line, so that the indicator is just next to that red line, but not actually on it, they can drive a car for a long, long time and the motor will never blow up. That’s not true. The fact is, you cannot go close to the red line for any amount of time and not blow the motor.
Red line teenagers make decisions that keep them close to high risk situations, putting themselves, and often others, in physical and emotional danger. Eventually, often sooner than later, they will become involved in serious antisocial behavior.
Think about the young adult who ends up in jail because he has not been able to accept living within the boundaries set by society. Eight times out of 10, he will tell you he is innocent. Even if he really is innocent, it is likely that the lifestyle he has chosen brings him in close contact with other people who are regularly challenging the rules and limitations set by society.
For instance, if he drinks a lot of alcohol it’s likely he’s in close contact with drunks. If he’s smoking marijuana, it’s likely that he knows some drug dealers. If he’s tattooed a rebellious symbol on his arm, it’s a signal to others who are rebellious, some of whom are likely to be violent, especially when they’re challenged. Even if he doesn’t believe exactly what other more extreme or intense people might believe, he has still put himself in close proximity to the forces that can undermine his life.
Every one of us has to deal with the restrictions that come with other people setting limits. There are family rules like curfews. There are school rules like attendance and turning in homework. There are job rules like time clocks and safety procedures. There are the rules of society: speed limits, property rights, age-restricted substances, licenses, insurance. The restrictions have been set, at the expense of the individual, for the safety and well-being of the group.
If you would like to talk about the challenges of raising children, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204/Línea de Apoyo at 877-434-0528. For free emergency child care call Crisis Nursery at 1-877-434-9599. Check out www.familiesandcommunities.org.
Maryanne Law is the executive director of the Parenting Resource Center in Austin.