Featured in Greenwich Sentinel

I feel that I’ve trained for my job all of my life. My dad was my junior high and high school principal who eventually became the assistant superintendent of the school system in which I grew up. I have observed him for years as he has dealt with teenagers and the pressures that society pushes upon them.

Yes, having my dad as principal some days was trying and angst-producing—although one of my fondest memories from my teen years was Dad being the one who handed me my diploma upon graduation. I still get choked up when I think about that day. I went on to serve as a youth pastor at North Stamford Congregational Church for five years, and also as a camp activities director in North Carolina.

In the past 18 years, as director of Arch Street, I have seen the teen culture change through horrific school shootings as well as several equally horrific worldwide tragedies. Additionally, there was a president who redefined the meaning of sex, not to mention the daily farces created by the current presidential candidates. And there have been at least a dozen or so pop icons who pushed the envelope further and further as their popularity and bank accounts rose. Kudos to Taylor Swift who, so far, continues to keep her clothes on.

If being a teenager hasn’t always been the toughest job on the planet, teens now have to struggle with all of these additional societal pressures. All this while aspiring to get into a good college, which comes with the realistic responsibilities of filling an academic resume with enough community service and extracurricular activities to knock the socks off of college admissions directors. No longer is a 4.0 GPA always sufficient; sometimes it’s not considered good enough compared to the competition.

I have encountered teenagers who judge their parents’ stress levels by how many wine bottles are in the recycling at week’s end. I’ve also observed a conversation between a very successful mom and her daughter in which the mom asked the daughter what grade she was going into. At this, the daughter’s eyes filled with tears as she screamed, “I think you should know, Mom!”

We live in a society in which our patience levels with our teenagers have grown shorter and shorter. We tear down $2 million dollar homes to replace them with $10 million dollar ones. We drink too much, smoke too much, prescribe too quickly, and fail to spend enough time with our families, even though we keep promising ourselves we are going to. We have built a world fueled on competition.

I feel our Greenwich schools academically are the best in the nation—without a doubt. The advanced responsibilities that we allow our teens to take on at early ages helps to nurture their development and will assist them in rising to the occasion for such strict college admission regulations and testing requirements. You will seldom find anywhere else in our nation a town that provides such amazing community resources for their young. I feel incredibly fortunate to work in a town that has a police chief who has youth at the top of his agenda. If we are not looking out for our young people, then we are not looking out for our nation.

The problems that we grew up with as teens never included the level of pressures they are facing today. The most recent Annual Study on Teen Drug Abuse states that teenagers are abusing prescription painkillers now more then ever. Also, Fairfield County continues to be one of the highest counties in the nation for alcoholism. For the first time, daily marijuana use exceeds daily tobacco cigarette use among 12th graders. Given these statistics, it is not surprising to hear that the amount spent on prescription drugs in our country is at an all time high.

We can’t take away the pressures that come with growing up and being a teenager, but we can nurture our teens so they can analyze these pressures and make healthy and positive decisions. We also can open up our methods of communication with our youth and seek to spend more quality time with them. Additionally, we need to look at the examples we are setting for our young.

Technology has put a damper on our verbal communication, and texting has replaced our need to necessarily hear someone else’s voice. When was the last time you called someone anticipating leaving a message on their voice mail but were surprised when they picked up the phone and said “hello”? Caught off guard and not knowing what to say, you probably ended up with “I didn’t expect you to pick up,” overcome by a feeling of aggravation that your schedule is now waylaid by conversation you didn’t expect to have. Keep in mind, this is the example we are setting for our youth; that time spent with one another can be seen as a burden or a hassle.

When was the last time the entire family sat down for dinner, or had the neighbors over for a Saturday barbecue? Every morning should feel like Sunday morning and we should begin our day by sitting down and spending a few minutes of quality family time with the people who mean the most to us. And if you have only one conversation with your teenagers on a daily basis, be absolutely sure that you include the words “I love you.” Love still makes our technology-filled world go round.