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  -- Generation Gap

Kids and Community: Generational Perceptions
                                               
By Judy Shepps Battle
 
When I was young, it was fashionable to blame the "generation gap" -- the difference between the values of adults and youth  for lack of communication between parents and kids. In my case, this divergence surfaced primarily in the areas of music preference and political styles
 
For example, I loved early rock 'n roll, but my parents simply thought it was a lot of noise. And I was all for protesting government policies through marches and civil disobedience, but my elders insisted these actions were rude.
 
There is a different kind of adult/youth perceptual mismatch going on today  it has to do with the extent of alcohol and drug use at teen parties and whether basic supervision is likely to be present at such events.
 
And this time, it is the younger generation that perceives these areas as more problematic than their elders do.
 
A DIFFERING REALITY
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University recently released findings that suggest many kids and parents are not on the same page with regard to important alcohol- and drug-related behaviors.
 
For example, the survey found that:
 
" 80 percent of parents believe that neither alcohol nor marijuana is usually available at the parties their teens attend. But 50 percent of teen partygoers attend parties where alcohol, drugs, or both are available.
 
" 98 percent of parents say they are usually present during the parties they allow their teens to have at home. But a third of teen partygoers report that parents are rarely or never present at the parties they attend.
 
" 99 percent of parents say they would not be willing to serve alcohol at their teens party. But 28 percent of teen partygoers have been at parties in a home where parents were present and teens were drinking alcohol.
 

These are serious contradictions that raise questions of basic health and safety.
 
And frankly, I am puzzled how any parent could be so out of touch with his or her child's reality.
 
NOT A NEW PHENOMENON
For those parents who grew up in the '70s and 80s, the phenomenon of kids experimenting with alcohol and drugs should not be a new concept.

Even if a mom or dad never touched a drop of alcohol or smoked a single marijuana cigarette as a youth, their peers are likely to have indulged. I am sure that any adult can cite a tragedy caused by drinking and driving or overdosing on drugs during their growing-up years.
 
So what stops parents from seeing what their kids know to be true?
 
In a word: denial.
 
And as the recovery folks say, denial is not a river in Egypt. It is something much closer to home.
 
REPEATING THE PAST
It is strange but true that no matter how rebellious we were as adolescents, we tend to take on our parents behaviors and values when we ourselves become parents. 
 
We do laundry on the same day of the week  we may even use the same laundry detergent. We mow the grass in the same criss-cross pattern as Dad always did. And we just assume that somehow our children will emerge from their teen years intact.
 
And most do.
 
But some don't.
 
And the last thing we want is to have that "some don't" group include our child.
 
POSITIVE STEPS
It is no secret that teens need clear rules, boundaries, supervision, and consequences with regard to alcohol and drugs.
 
And it should be clear to all that under no circumstances should a teen party be unsupervised, nor should adults serve alcohol to kids. Parents must be actively present, even when their child grumbles and complains about how embarrassed he or she feels about having Mom and Dad in the same room as friends.
 
Most important, parental involvement in a child's life starts at a very young age. We naturally ask our preadolescent how his or her day has gone, and we know our young child's friends. And he or she gladly shares this information.
 
These conversations must continue into and through the teen years.
 
It is often hard to have daily chats or even personal discussions with our adolescent. But we must find a way, even if it means taking parenting classes or talking with a counselor about why communication is so difficult.
 
Addressing this generational gap is no easier for us than it was for our parents  but it is well worth the effort.
 

Judy Shepps Battle is a New Jersey resident, addictions specialist, consultant and freelance writer. She can be reached by e-mail at writeaction@aol.com. Additional information on this and other topics can be found at her website at http://www.writeaction.com/.

Copyright 2006 Judy Shepps Battle


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