I regularly meet parents who use data to guide their business decisions but find it much more difficult to use data to guide parenting decisions. The Center for Disease Control monitors high risk behavior in US high school students. Although some behaviors have declined in the last decade, the following statistics from the 2013 survey raise some questions.
|Activity||Percentage of Students Who Responded 'Yes'|
|Never used a bicycle helmet||87%|
|Never use seat belts||7%|
|Tried alcohol with friends||66%|
|Currently drink regularly||34%|
|Have tried marijuana||40%|
|Regularly use marijuana||23%|
|Have had sexual intercourse||46%|
|Sexual intercourse without a condom||40%|
|Texted or emailed while driving||41%|
The recent movie Concussion has highlighted a high risk issue for student-athletes. The CDC estimates that there are 300,000 concussions suffered by high school athletes each year, 47% of which occur in football. The research shows that girls suffer more concussions in soccer and in basketball than boys. The reasons are not conclusive.
Most of us want our children to grow up to be independent, productive, contributing members of society. We want them to be physically and emotionally healthy. As a headmaster of an independent school like Shorecrest that places students in wonderful universities and sees many of them pursue interesting leadership opportunities at school and in their communities, I observe the energy and commitment parents make to support their sons and daughters.
I have reared two boys through the high school years and have supported hundreds of parents through the same process. There seems to be a consensus that, while it may feel daunting at the time, preparing a teen for college is far easier than preparing a teen for a physically and emotionally healthy adulthood.
Unless a parent/guardian has created an environment where natural conversations can occur about life issues, discussions about sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll can be awkward, if not totally counterproductive. In my experience teens do not mind guidelines but they hate lectures. Who doesn’t? The best advice to parents is to begin open dialogue about life issues as soon as a child is born. The longer one waits, the more unnatural these important discussions become.
Children need to know the values and behaviors their parents expect. Children will quickly pick up when the values one is preaching are not the ones that are practiced. It is pretty difficult to tell a teen not to text and drive when they see their role models doing that very behavior.
No doubt, if we are going to let our children learn to think for themselves, we will have to accept that they may be exposed to some risky situations. The parent who forbids a son from playing football because of the potential of a concussion has to face the fact that concussions can occur in soccer, basketball, cheerleading, bicycle and hover board accidents. Are we going to forbid our children from doing anything that may entail some risk? Not if we want them to grow up to be independent thinkers.
We can do all we can to protect our children from physical and emotional harm but in the end, they will live their lives and make their choices. If we have given them clear guidance on expected behavior and sound values, our chances increase that our dream and more importantly, the dreams of our children, will materialize.
How should we use data about teen behavior and risks? Keep it in perspective. When we have done our best to educate and teach values that will serve our children a lifetime, we have reduced the chances that our children will not think before they make a choice that could have terrible consequences. Realistically, we know there are no guarantees. Yet, wisdom guides us to do all we can and minimize regrets.