In the words of Harold Arlen it’s time to ‘accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative’ in thinking about teen behaviour.
I have always thought that we (meaning those of us who speak to and about teenagers) are far too focused on the negative statistics. Promiscuity, suicide, bullying, drug and alcohol abuse are easy attention grabbers and make wonderful PowerPoint slides because they have such frightening consequences. No one wants to think about, let alone experience, having a teenager hurt by any of them.
The problem with this focus is that it ignores the fact that most of the really frightening behaviours are experienced by the minority, they are the exceptions. The vast majority of kids are just normal adolescents who will probably experiment – to a point – but will generally make wise choices.
When the extremes are constantly highlighted we fail to affirm the kids who have positive behaviours, possibly to the point of making them feel abnormal and thus susceptible to moving into riskier territory.
We also fail to consider the sources of wisdom and confidence to make good choices that are found in many teens. Principally these are the active involvement of caring families, teachers and youth workers who take the extra step to become mentors, guides and role models, and membership in faith or community service organisations that give teenagers an inner value and purpose that they choose to not disrupt with risk taking choices.
Parents need to be encouraged to believe that they are not powerless and that their actions are making a difference to the safety and confidence of their children. Teachers, too, need to be reassured that every small act of care they make is a building block in the foundation of resolve and confidence in a teenager’s life.
This excellent article on Grogwatch makes this point in regard to the realities of binge drinking.
It’s time we started to apply the same kind of thinking to all of the life harming activities. Certainly we need to highlight the potential dangers, that knowledge is a big part of what keeps kids safe, but let us do so in a way that affirms and encourages positive behaviours and choices that naturally lead to exciting, fulfilling, safe lives.