Kathy Gresey, editor of the Kane County Chronicle and fantabulous host of BATV’s newest show, “Viewpoint,” recently invited me to participate in a panel discussion about “Pressures Teens Face” for the show’s second episode, which aired last week.
This installment of “Viewpoint,” a program that presents in-depth panel discussions about hot topics concerning residents of our community, also featured Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez; Kane County Coroner Rob Russell; Batavia High School Dean of Students Erin Reid; and Hearts of Hope Director Lea Minalga.
Gresey, who moderated the discussion, encouraged me to bring my kids along – and even suggested they participate. But, well, “They’d rather poke their eyes out with a hot poker,” I said.
Yeah, that about sums it up. Because, as Reid pointed out before the tape began rolling, “Teens spend 100 percent of their time figuring out how to avoid embarrassment.”
Yep, I get that. They’re acutely aware of themselves and of others, and of their quest to “belong” – which is, I think, the primary job of adolescence. Figuring out how – and with whom – to attach, while also striving to gain some measure of competence and independence, takes work. Add to that school, sports and other extracurricular activities, which, while fun, do involve some stressors. Throw in a healthy dose of chores and other familial responsibilities and it’s no wonder teens feel pressure.
But on top of all of that, “They are bombarded with information on a daily basis, with the advent of the Internet,” Perez volunteered.
“They are never disconnected,” she said. “They’re always plugged in. I don’t feel like downtime, even in their own minds, ever really happens.”
For some kids, this cumulative load of pressures, which often includes the drive to succeed and achieve, can lead some kids to choose to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, says Minalga.
Add bullying to the mix and it’s a wonder some kids are brave enough to get out of bed every day. The thing is, while we all face these pressures, kids and adults alike (though the details may be different), teens must face them without the benefit of life experience and an adult brain, including a fully developed frontal lobe, where reasoning and judgment are processed.
In males, the frontal lobe is not fully functioning until around the age of 25.
That’s where parenting comes in, early and often. And when we have these conversations with our kids, about drugs, sex, bullying or whatever, it’s helpful to pose hypothetical scenarios and help them to brainstorm about how they might handle them. It doesn’t hurt to let them know, too, that if they ever feel like talking, you’ll be there to listen. It may take a few false starts for a kid to trust the process, but sometimes that’s all the encouragement that’s needed, to get the ball rolling.
Talking certainly wasn’t an issue for this group of panelists. We even had a laugh or two, and volunteered candid memories of our own adolescence. It was enlightening. Plus, I learned that I talk too much with my hands. At least my mom and my daughter, who already viewed the video on the BATV website (mybatv.com/show/viewpoint/), think so.
Oh, and the poor waiter at Bien Trucha, who tried to pour water for the people dining at the next table as I gestured wildly during lunch with a friend a few days ago?
Yeah, he probably thinks so, too. In my defense, those cute tables are kinda close together, but I digress.
Toward the close of the panel discussion, Russell mentioned a program he’s exploring, one already in place in other counties, where teens are allowed to tour the coroner’s office. It’s a real eye-opener, apparently, where potential consequences of risky behavior are plain as day. They’re also encouraged to write their own obituaries, too. That’ll stop you in your tracks in a hurry!
Something else Russell mentioned as we closed our discussion – about his own family’s tradition, growing up, of reaching out and supporting others – really moved me and inspired me to recall why I think we’re all “here,” after all – to help each other.
He and the others, they get it. They’re good people, in my opinion, but check out the video and decide for yourself. And don’t hesitate to call on them. I have a hunch, they’ll be there. For you and for your kids.
• Jennifer DuBose lives in Batavia with her husband, Todd, and their two children, Noah and Holly. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.