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Youth / OPINION : Families Need 'Honest, Open Dialogue'

August 30, 1993|SANDRA CHAVEZ | Sandra Chavez, 17, is a senior at Hawthorne High School.

Teen-agers have become prime targets in our society--victims of drug addiction, alcoholism, early pregnancy, suicide, gang violence and child abuse. Under such circumstances, it's sometimes hard to have hope in the future.

But there is a solution because, for many people in my age group, these problems share a common cause--lack of communication in the family. Many families in the United States are said to be dysfunctional. That can mean anything from single-parent households to homes where one parent is an alcoholic. In these types of families, parents don't take much interest in their children and, as a result, parents fail to provide the support and attention teen-agers so desperately need.

And when they do appear to care, many parents hypocritically stress the "good morals" or "family values" that are so

often lacking in their own lives. Some parents get so wrapped up in preaching the "golden rules" of life, they forget to follow them themselves.

False rhetoric and shallow lectures are not going to persuade us. People in my age group want role models, people we can look up to. All the preaching in the world will have little effect if the people doing the preaching don't set a good example for us to follow.

Communication in the family must come first. If communication is stressed, then the parents and children can come to an understanding about what morals and values mean to them. The examples become real and concrete. We can learn from one another's life experiences in an honest, open way.

Without such an honest and open dialogue, it's no wonder parents sometimes have trouble figuring out where they went wrong with their teen-agers. If they weren't talking the same language, they probably weren't communicating. It's difficult for a parent to get any message through--no matter how important--under such circumstances. And it's just as difficult for a teen-ager's cry for help to be understood.

Let me give you an example. A friend of mine, a 16-year-old boy, was raised with the morals and values his parents brought home from their church. But they got so wrapped up in these intangible teachings, they forget how to communicate with their son and eventually lost control of him.

He has become a failure in school. He does drugs occasionally, steals, tags on walls and comes home at whatever time he pleases. None of this is a secret to his parents; his dad even lets him keep his cigarettes and liquor in his bedroom. They tell him what he's doing is wrong, but by accepting his behavior, they fail to communicate their displeasure.

The parents say they are praying for their son to become a better person, all the while ignoring their responsibility to help him do so. Instead of preaching to him, maybe they should talk to him, take an interest in his life. Ask him how his day at school went and discipline him when he steps out of line.

The best place to build communication between parents and teens is in the home. Taking a genuine interest in the things teen-agers do helps show them that their parents care. It's a shame some parents can't find time to spend with their children, because we so desperately want and need it.

Practicing good morals and values--rather than just talking about them--is also a good way to teach teen-agers about who they are and what's expected of them.

Maybe then, we can really become "tomorrow's future."

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