Hylton I Lightman, MC DCH (SA) FAAP
Summer 2020 has begun following the tumultuous Spring 2020. We know for sure that uncertainty is here to stay and we need to embrace uncertainty. Yet we can mitigate with some proper planning. What follows is a call to action on how to plan so we can help our teens.
We know summer as beach time. Playing in the sand and swimming in natural water. Sports. Hiking. Travel programs. Art programs. Learning programs. Pools. Barbecues on Bubby’s Grandpa’s deck.
Sadly, summer 2020 is being truncated programmatically. This means many kids will be home this summer with plenty of time on their hands.
Plenty of time on their hands = idle time. Idle = Nothing’s happening, nothing’s doing.
This is not a good thing.
This is due to circumstances beyond our control. Perhaps with honesty, planning and creativity, we can help to make sure that our teens do not fall into any kind of physical, psychic, emotional abyss from which it will be difficult, if not nearly impossible, to climb out.
What do I mean?
Let’s put it bluntly – Idle time can lead to negative behavior such as underage drinking, drug use and misabuse and promiscuity.
Over 15 years ago, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) published “Seasonality of Youth’s First-Time Use of Marijuana, Cigarettes or Alcohol.” There is a 40% increase in first time marijuana use during the months of June, July and August as compared to the rest of the year. First time marijuana users typically number about 1100 per day the rest of the year, according to this report. In July, it peaks to nearly 2000 users. I have not (yet) located research on this regarding drinking and other activities but I would not be surprised if these kinds of behaviors escalate during the warmer months. I shudder to think about vaping and juuling.
Yes, my dear readers, this kind of behavior transpires in the frum world. Organizations such as Madraigos, Amudim and the Saving Lives Five Towns Drug &Alcohol Coalition are among the organizations dedicated to preventing the ills of society from spreading and wreaking further havoc than they already do within our world.
Teenagers are wired to explore, learn and have fun, and to seek adventure and even danger. When drug and alcohol use becomes available to them and there is nothing better to do, they may succumb to the internal and external pressures. And voila, they have found a new form of entertainment.
Research has shown that the greatest predictor of whether a teen will drink or do drugs is the social group. In other words, are there kids in the group who are “indulging”? The answer is most groups have kids who are “indulging.” Seeking acceptance and friends is a powerful factor for kids. Their age almost dictates that many act on impulse without thinking about the short-term and long-term future and consequences. They are adolescents which means they are less likely to think before they act.
This is how teens act during “regular” times. But it could be exacerbated, G-d forbid, this summer. Summer 2020 is front loaded with potholes that could lead to a slippery slope down an abyss and then landing with a thud, rock bottom.
We have been “locked up” the last several months. While some kids have done well and even thrived through Covid-19 and Zoom learning, many have not. These kids have pent up energies and emotions that need outlets. Yet many overnight summer camps are not happening at all. So these adolescents will be home and I’m not so sure that there is enough programming at the present time to keep them meaningfully occupied and busy.
A Shomer Shabbos professional who works in the local public school system said recently that, based on her observations and listening to kids, there is, at best, a negligible gap between the local public school kids and the “vulnerable” kids within our community. It would take just a slight beckoning for one of our kids to fall prey to what’s out there. It’s painful to contemplate, especially the domino effect it would have in “recruiting” other kids.
So what’s a community to do to prevent problems from happening?
There needs to be some fast action.
First, I urge educators and Rabbonim to meet with Shomrim and the local police precincts to identify spots where teens gather without supervision and “plug” them up and even shut them down. Every community has its teen hangouts. Perhaps a water front. Behind an empty building. Local parks.
Parents must educate their children about drugs and other ills. It is well within the realm of possibility that your teen will say they know drugs are bad and will then announce they are not discussing the topic further with you. Don’t let that deter you from sitting your teens down and looking at the statistics on drugs and alcohol use among teens. Ask questions to make sure your children understand how this behavior has only negative consequences and can mess up and derail their lives. It is not uncommon that when faced with drugs, alcohol or whatever, teens will remember these conversations and will draw strength from them to resist temptation and peer pressure.
In addition to identifying our communities’ “vulnerable areas” and shutting them down and parents proactively speaking with their teens, we need to seriously step up the programming for these kids. This means keeping teens busy with productive activities that give them something to do while cutting down on boredom. Some kids might thrive with some of the online classes that are offered. Others might benefit from a sports league run by older teens. As long as they are involved in something that interests them and may contain a goal they wish to attain, they are less likely to throw away their lives.
Perhaps the schools that have gyms can be open to their students to become legitimate teen hang outs. The numbers can be worked out as social restrictions are lessening. Again, organizations like Madraigos are needed more than ever this summer. We must keep idle time this summer to a minimum.
Adequate supervision of our teens is important as well, from screen time and what’s on their phones to making sure that they check in with us or we with them. A rule in our home has always been that when Mommy or Daddy calls, you must answer the phone. Not all parents supervise in the same way. That will be an interesting topic of conversation with your teen.
Clearly, summer 2020 will have its challenges. Let’s put our collective efforts together to assure a win-win for our teenagers.
As always, daven.