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Wednesday, August 17, 2022
Home Family Parenting Advice “Normal” Teen-Age Behavior Has Risks—Good Parenting

“Normal” Teen-Age Behavior Has Risks—Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

I am so relieved that children ages twelve and up can get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Our three children all fall into this age range. Fortified with this “protection” the seventeen-year-old is now getting offers to go to the beach to celebrate the end of the school year, and end of high school for some, with different friends.

Some would be going with parents, but others are eighteen-year-olds who have managed to arrange shared rides and shared rooms with other teens. So on top of the anxiety we’ve had for fourteen months of exposure to Covid-19, we’re back to the realities of risky teen-age behavior.

Help Me Say No

Dear HMSN,

Ah, yes. The vaccine is getting us back to normal. Normal behavior for adolescents is bursting with risky behavior. 

No, Because

Let’s just talk about risks for teens at the beach when there isn’t a pandemic. There’s something about being in the presence of one’s peers that makes behavior, even risky behavior, look like harmless fun. Until it ends with a trip to the police station or to the emergency room. Drugs, alcohol, sexual activity, and being completely innocent but in the wrong place at the wrong time can have tragic consequences. Law enforcement trouble can include: underage drinking, public disturbance, destruction of property, driving violations, and possession of illegal substances. 

The drinking age in Maryland is 21 years. For young people close to that age, it is far too tempting and easy to be in the presence of and to imbibe alcohol. According to a federal survey conducted for each state for the year 2017, among Marylanders 15 to 17-years-old 20.2 % reported having used alcohol in the month prior. Among 18 to 20-year-olds, the rate was 42.9 %. That year there were 10 fatal car accidents in Maryland involving impaired young drivers up to 20-years-old, representing just over half of all deaths by car crashes. 

Current laws regarding marijuana state that possession of less than 10 grams is a civil offense carrying a maximum $100 fine. That could be one joint or even less. However, possession of more than 10 grams becomes a criminal offense and can result in a year in jail, a $1,000 fine or both. Even if the charges are dismissed, a dismissal would only come after a follow-up trip to the courthouse, advisedly with an attorney, in the jurisdiction of the alleged activity. Certainly not the souvenir of Beach Week your teen had in mind when the fun time was taking place.

Regrettable decisions and unexpected consequences are part and parcel of the angst and excitement of the teen years. It is a sobering fact that all too often, regrettable sexual activity takes place among teens when alcohol and drugs are used. Please be the kind of parent who shares information and standards about sexual activity with your tweens and teens. If the topic is too difficult for you, make sure that they have other trusted adults to confide in and to seek guidance from. There are excellent online resources to refresh your knowledge, or to direct your teen to get informed, about contraception and disease avoidance . But the best prevention for undesired consequences is to steer clear of situations such as unsupervised teen-age celebrations at which drugs and alcohol are likely.

Yes, But

Are any of the offers your teen is getting connected to responsible adult supervision? Are you close enough with these parents to be able to review the shoulds and shouldn’ts of the excursion? 

Certainly not all parents condone wild times for their teens at the beach. Especially considering that Covid-19 vaccinations are still taking place, with the required waiting period of two weeks after a second dose before someone can be considered immune. And vaccination is voluntary, which means in any public place there is a chance to be in contact with someone who is not yet vaccinated. (See my previous column about convincing a friend to get vaccinated if they are reluctant  .) According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC), outdoor activities are safest for everyone

Who is vaccinated?

Are the chaperoning adults and their family fully vaccinated and in agreement with keeping everyone as safe as possible on this trip? Are they up to the challenge of providing reasonable supervision – including freedom with limits – so the teens can have a nice time at the beach? Or maybe you’ve decided that you’d be the best chaperone for this expedition, perhaps as a day trip with an afternoon meet-up with their school friends on the boardwalk while you remain in phone contact. Or an overnight camping trip, still with that afternoon meet-up, at the perfect distance from potential trouble to keep the teens in your care out of it. 

The pandemic has been difficult, to say the least, for teens. Now that the end seems to be in sight, it’s important to stay vigilant with keeping them safe from harm.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist www.drdebbiewood.com and founding director of Chesapeake Children’s Museum www.theccm.org.

Read more of Dr. Wood’s Good Parenting columns by clicking here.


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