The Kids are Watching

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People who know me have encountered someone who is positive, joyful, fun-loving, with a good sense of humor. So I don’t want this reputation to be ruined by this column because I’m reaching out with some concern for the people in our community. It could sound like that I’m anti-fun, but the truth is that there is no fun in being arrested, being fined, or being responsible for someone’s injury or loss of life. So what I’m about to say is designed to keep our lives safe and fun.

The kids are watching us. We all hope our children will grow up to be good citizens in a safe, caring world. Yet sometimes they see some of us make choices that they will later copy — choices that are less than safe or caring. They see some of us texting while driving. They see us setting off illegal fireworks. They see us running stop signs. They see us serving alcohol to minors.

They see us setting up an alternative world based on what we feel like doing and the message sent is: “It’s OK to be outraged when we see other people doing things that are against the law, but we function in our private world that exempts us from following the laws we don’t find convenient.” This has far reaching consequences. I wonder why we see so many hit and run incidents. I suspect that they often have something to do with the driver drinking or using drugs and thus havingan impaired judgment. But I also think this is one of those situations where people give up acting responsibly because we have a life long pattern of exempting ourselves from doing the right thing.

In the next few weeks, one of the big temptations to disregard doing the right thing will take place at graduation parties. Even though there is a “social host law” that puts parents in jeopardy of a fine and a conviction (not to mention their putting young lives in a variety of dangers), parents will be tempted to serve alcohol to high schoolers and their friends.

Let me quote from the brochure prepared by the Nassau County District Attorney explaining this law: “Nassau County’s Social Host Law is an effort to give parents the security of knowing that their children are not being served alcohol in another home. It also gives parents another reason to say ‘no’ when their own children pressure them into hosting a party with alcohol.

“The law applies to anyone 18 years or older; who owns, rents or otherwise controls a private residence; and knows or who has reason to know that alcoholic beverages are being consumed by a person less than 21 years of age on the premises. The penalties include fines, a criminal conviction, and up to a year in jail for repeat offenders.

“This law is intended to keep young people safe from the hazards associated with underage drinking. In addition to drunk driving, offenses like assault, criminal mischief and even teenage suicides are more prevalent when alcohol is involved.”

Parents are sometimes quick to make excuses such as “We drank at 18 and we turned out OK.” or “Kids will be kids, you can’t stop them so it’s better if they drink in my house with their friends than in a park somewhere.” or “It’s OK if my kid has a beer; he/she knows their limit.” Yet every time a parent bends or breaks a law, the kids are watching and learning.

I know this is going to sound radical to some, but what if even the adults refrained from alcohol at a high school graduation party? And if someone’s reaction to that is “it wouldn’t really be a party unless we could get a buzz on” remember that the kids are watching that too. Drunk Mommy. Wasted Daddy. Happy graduation kids!

I’m not a prohibitionist when it comes to adult beverages. But these moments help us to think about what our kids are learning. Because they are watching.

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Pastor of St. Bernard's since 2013 and known for his engaging homilies and community presence, Father Ralph Sommer is also a treasured columnist for the Levittown Tribune.

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