It's tough being a teenager.
People think you've got it made, but you don't. Lots of things to figure out. You're old enough to start sorting out who you want to be in this world, but not old enough to make much of it happen. For the most part, you're playing by other people's rules, either those of your parents or some other authority figures. You just hope they know what they're doing. You hope they'll help you along.
The news these days tells us that lots of young people lose their way.
Teens dropping out of school. Teens getting hooked on drugs. Teens producing babies before they're able to take care of them. Teens on killing sprees.
In one of the more sobering local examples, 17-year-old Chad MacDonald of Yorba Linda was found dead earlier this month in a Norwalk alley, the apparent victim of a drug deal gone bad. His family concedes Chad had veered off the straight-and-narrow path, but his mother's lawyer and Brea police now are publicly fighting over the extent of his involvement in undercover drug operations for the Police Department and whether it may have led to his death.
However that debate ends, the conclusion will be a sad one. There'll still be a dead teenager who never got a chance to show what he could do with his life.
And then we have the Randall twins of Anaheim Hills.
They're 16. So far in their young lives, they've joined the Tiger Scouts at age 7, worked their way up the ranks and, two weeks ago, received unanimous recommendations from local officials to become Eagle Scouts. Nationwide, 2% to 3% of Scouts attain Eagle status, the pinnacle of Scouting.
Among the things they've done to reach that point is to help landscape and paint a school building, paint backboards, attend leadership conferences and volunteer on food drives. In addition, the boys are B students.
These are the same boys whom the Boy Scouts of America are threatening to expel, on the grounds that they won't profess a belief in God.
And you wonder why young people are confused?
The state Supreme Court ruled last week that the national organization could, indeed, expel any youngster for failing to adhere to the Scouting requirement of belief in God. Many people have applauded the ruling, saying the overriding issue was the organization's right to set its own rules and expect members to abide by them.
Having grappled with numerous readers over this
issue, my argument has been not that the Scouts couldn't expel the boys, but that they shouldn't. Why should something as private and unprovable as a young boy's religious beliefs be a requirement for Scout advancement? To me, the Randalls' exemplary Scouting record shouts to the illogic of that position.
Mike Wagner, a 49-year-old city planning consultant now living in Fullerton, received an Eagle badge from a Van Nuys troop in 1965. Within a few years, however, he had become an atheist. From that vantage point, he's followed the Randall case closely.
"I feel like the Scouts have won the battle but lost the war," he said last week.
Still, Wagner won't renounce the Scouts. "They do way too much good to be renounced," he said. "I enjoyed Scouting; it's a wonderful program. I owe Scouting a great debt. Now I have to figure out how to pay it on their terms, because as an atheist I can't be a Scout leader. They do so much good, but on the other hand it doesn't seem right, the point they made" with the Randalls.
As for the Randall twins, they're waiting by the mailbox to see if the national organization rejects the recommendation that they get Eagle badges. "In my eyes, in my parents' eyes, in my grandparents' eyes, to all our friends, everyone who's talked to me about it, they said no matter what national does, that my brother and I are Eagle Scouts," William Randall told me last week. "We've got all the merit badges, done the Eagle project and been approved by the board."
The Boy Scouts of America has won the battle. It can take the California Supreme Court decision and hang it on a wall.
Now it can bathe itself in glory by ending the war against two of its own.
It can give two honest teenage boys exactly what they deserve: their Eagle badges.
Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821, by writing to him at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail at email@example.com.