Do you know where your kids are at?

Public Service Announcements about teenagers are Stupid

Hey, Maine Principals’ Association! The 1950’s called – they want your Public Service Announcement (PSA) back. Apparently, you folks want us to know that kids who play high school sports learn the values of teamwork and that what they learn by playing sports benefits them academically. Are. You. Kidding. Me? Really? In 2012, we’re going to plug the value of sports for high school kids? This is a shining example of why so many teenagers see us as being out of touch and not understanding the world they live in.

Maybe high school was a long time ago for you. Maybe you’re one of those parents I go off on for stupidly saying to your children, “These are the four best years of your life!” High school for a LOT of us sucked. Kids who play high school sports tend to be athletic. I was one of the majority who was not athletic, so given the resources of my small town Maine community what I did was I worked and did drugs and drank.

Folks of my generation remember the classic, “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?” Remember the fried egg in the frying pan? Remember how we laughed at it while we were getting high? There was a much better PSA many years later that riffed on that one. A young woman picks up that same frying pan and destroys the whole kitchen explaining, “This is your life on drugs.” That one made sense to me but it must’ve offended nice people because it didn’t last long.

I blame the Maine Principals’ Association for the fact that disturbingly enough I now have the band Oasis singing in my head, “Where were you while we were getting high?”

My truth is, it’s not the job of public schools to ensure the safety and well being of kids. It’s the family’s privilege and it is the responsibility of the whole community. PSAs are supposed to increase public awareness about social and health problems. Somewhere along the way, we stopped being actively involved parents and I’m not sure what a PSA is going to accomplish in reminding us that kids face serious stress and risks. If you don’t know this then you aren’t paying attention.

Maine television stations play this stupid guilt trip of a PSA around 11pm especially on the weekends, “Do you know where your teenage son or daughter is right now?” Look – if it’s 11pm you either know where your kids are, you’ve forgotten what it was like to be a teenager and didn’t notice they were lying to you, or you just don’t care enough to keep track of such things. Let’s stop closing the barn door after the horses are already out of the barn and getting high and having unprotected sex.

Every teenager who has ever spent more than 12 minutes with me has gotten a lecture about the importance of using two forms of birth control. I’m torn about this. On the one hand I want to do everything I can to prevent unwanted pregnancies. On the other hand, most of the best people I know were not truly wanted by their parents. Their parents either conceived accidentally or stupidly they chose to have kids not because they truly wanted them but rather because it’s somehow still part of the American Dream.

For those of us who grew up in such families…we made promises to ourselves as children that when we had a family someday things would be different. Sadly we have seen that unless folks experience a lot of growth and healing, they tend to go to extremes. We either turn out very much like our parents or more often we become the exact opposite of our parents. Extremes are not healthy and even the best intentioned parents will make mistakes by going to them.
An awful lot of us are mucking around doing the best we can with what we have to work with. We worry. We second guess ourselves. We try to give our kids everything…everything but our time and our selves. We keep looking for our kids to come to where we are and take an interest in what we’re doing. This rarely works. We need to take an interest in what they’re doing and value it. Wanna connect to your kid? Awesome! Stop asking them how their day was. Go listen and show respect for the music they like and instead of complaining about their first person shooter video games that you bought them, go actually play the game! Yeah, you’ll suck at it but it’ll probably make your kid laugh and laughing has been clinically proven to bring families together!

There’s a ton of studies about what leads kids to do drugs and make other high risk choices. The studies tend to find correlations not causality. Correlations just mean that as one thing happens, another thing happens. The classic example is ice cream sales and murder rates – as one goes up so does the other. Obviously they do not cause each other. What causes both to increase is hot weather.

We have pretty solid correlations for kids. A recent study in Maine showed that kids who believe their parents are likely to ask questions about their alcohol use are less likely to abuse alcohol. This is absolutely true. I don’t for one second believe that asking questions keeps kids from drinking. The cause of both (being less likely to abuse alcohol and asking questions) is parents caring, connecting, and communicating regularly. PSAs can help because education matters and prevention matters. Intervention at the high school level should be realistically geared towards today’s kids and should be based on respect, not insulting their awareness/intelligence, and not judging them. Here’s my proposal for a PSA:

Hey. If you don’t know what Vikes, Perks, and Babies are…you might wanna find out. If you don’t understand that Family Guy is actually not so much a parody of the American family as a reflection, you might wanna pull up that new fangled thing called You Tube and watch it. If you somehow forgot that junior high and high school sucked and was filled with tough choices or if you don’t get that Depression and Anxiety are a HUGE problem for today’s kids check out Faith Bishop’s amazing film “The Road Back.” And oh yeah, spend time with your kids doing/talking about stuff they care about wouldja?

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.