I write this at great risk of becoming a community pariah. But my concern is so great for our teen-agers and future adults that I am compelled to address issues that many of us would rather ignore.
Several weeks ago my 17-year-old senior in high school announced he would not be attending his senior prom this month unless he and his friends were allowed to rent a hotel room after the dance.
I, in my naivete, assumed that renting the room was for the purpose of unsupervised partying with alcoholic beverages. While this conduct alone was abhorrent, it was not the only rationale. I found out later that the students planned to rent rooms as couples -- and that a basket of condoms was expected to be provided at the prom.
This was more than I could stand. Have parents abdicated their responsibility and accountability for their children? Are these our community standards: It's OK for teen-agers to drink as long as they don't kill anyone or kill themselves; it's OK for them to have sex if they practice safe sex?
Apparently so. Parents are allowing their children to rent hotel rooms, and they are serving alcohol to their children and their children's friends. "I trust my child," they say to me. "He'll be in college in six months. What then? He'll be doing it anyway, with or without our permission. At least this way it's safe."
There are several issues here. The first is teen-age alcohol consumption. Parents and teens are aware of the dangers of drinking and driving, but this is where their awareness ends. Alcohol is America's No. 1 drug problem among youth. Teen-age alcoholism has become a serious problem, and I think despairingly of the young people who will never be right again once they become addicted.
It is against the law for teen-agers to drink. We are creating a society of impaired adults, ill-prepared to deal with life after adolescence.
A second issue is sex. Besides the age-old issue of unwanted pregnancies, indiscriminate sex can be lethal. Twenty-two percent of all HIV-infected people are between the ages of 11 and 20. This equates to about 10,000 teen-agers in Maryland alone. A recent study on college campuses identified four in 1,000 students as HIV-infected. While condoms can provide protection, they are not 100 percent effective. But AIDS is 100 percent fatal. With each successive sexual partner, the risk of AIDS is significantly increased.
We parents are responsible for the increase in teen-age alcohol abuse and sexual activity. We are providing our teen-agers with their wants and not their needs. We are also giving them mixed messages: Go to the party where we know beer will be served, but don't drink. Stay with your boyfriend in the hotel room, but don't have sex.
It takes less energy to say "yes" than it does to say "no" to an unhappy, demanding teen-ager under great pressure to conform with his peers. And yet we are doing that child a great injustice. We are not providing him or her with the tools to say "no," since we ourselves cannot do it.
Moreover, we are setting children up in situations for which they are not prepared, and we give them no out because we have sanctioned the activity. We have opted out of being the villain. Our kids cannot say, "I can't. My parents won't let me."
We bury our heads and refuse to see what our teen-agers are doing and the emotional toll it is taking. On entering college or leaving home for a job, our children should carry the values upon which to base independent decisions between right and wrong.
We as a community must set the standards for what is acceptable and what is not for our teen-agers -- and hold them accountable. We cannot expect their attitudes and behavior to change unless we change by becoming more alert and providing clear moral guidelines. We must recognize that adolescence is not adulthood, but merely a passage fraught with uncertainties and emotional upheaval.
Parents also must support each other. We are strong in numbers. Alternatives must be provided for our children to participate in group activities without alcohol.
Unless we can reverse the current swing of the pendulum, we will ultimately be responsible for creating a community and nation of used-up young adults. It is time for us to demonstrate our love for our teen-agers by finally saying, "No!"
Amy Deutschendorf is a Baltimore clinical nurse specialist.