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Cowered Into Silence

With Fall upon us, this post seems quite poignant…

On Friday, October 12, 2007, a number of seniors, juniors and even sophomores from at least one Nassau County high school participated in Midnight Madness. I know. Keep it on the down low. Somebody could get into serious trouble.

Midnight Madness, for those who don’t know, is a yearly ritual hosted by the graduating high school senior class – a scavenger hunt of sorts where cars full of our impressionable teenage children drive around town, vying to be the first to complete a laundry list of tasks so disturbingly self-deprecating that I don’t feel comfortable disclosing their specifics. Suffice to say that this year’s activities included drinking, smoking and sexual conduct brazenly and openly performed. In some cases, the behavior was memorialized by photographs or videos, images preserved and effortlessly transmitted with just the click of a button from one cell phone to another, or to Facebook for friends, classmates and the rest of teenage America to see. Bragging rights. Just another keepsake to fill the coming-of-age scrapbooks of our teenagers, their “proof” to each other of their new-found independence, maturity and worldliness. Since when did following the crowd and stuffing one’s feelings come to represent maturity and worldliness? Wasn’t it only yesterday that we took pride in watching our children demonstrate individuality, sensitivity and compassion? How have we regressed so far in such a short time?

Unfortunately for some, the photos and other recordings of the evening’s disturbing events are not needed to remind them of what transpired, the images likely etched indelibly in their minds as they struggle in silence to come to terms with the how’s and why’s of their participation in such self-destructive behavior. And that, for me, is the part of this that is so disturbing – the code of silence that requires that complete secrecy about the evening be maintained around adults. Participation in the event, some say, is grounds for academic discipline, so stealth mode must be observed at all costs.

And so, a conspiracy of silence follows, sweeping into its net participants and non-participants alike, kids unwilling to talk for fear of getting themselves or their classmates into trouble, and parents who have come to learn of the events but who don’t want to violate the trust of or complicate the life of their children. The silence that follows on the heels of such an event, is clearly more destructive than the event itself because it deprives the entire community of the opportunity to talk candidly about the many feelings, some quite powerful, that are a natural product of such an evening. With silence, moreover, there is no accounting, no lesson, no learning and no reason to hope that future behavior would be any better. We know that even the most responsible kids exercise poor judgment at one time or another. Unless confronted with such behavior, children will never learn the important lessons that come from those lapses. And the message that goes out to their younger brothers and sisters is that misbehaving and covering up are acceptable ways to operate. It should come as no surprise when these younger siblings make those same mistakes.

It doesn’t matter how I came to learn of the events of October 12. What does matter is that there are children out there who require our intervention and guidance. Our kids need us to pierce the veil of secrecy and silence — which helps to perpetuate our denial of the underlying conduct – and begin to honestly recognize its truly destructive nature and sort out appropriate consequences. We don’t have to go this alone, either. Thankfully, there are programs, workshops and resources available to us that can facilitate our progress in this regard.

I can’t imagine that I am the only parent aware of what happened that night. I know there must be others out there who wish to take action but who feel bound by the same constraints that I do. We need to come together to accomplish these ends. Without others, I am alone, a coward in the face of silence.

Cowered into silence, afraid to disaffect my children, I remain

Anonymously Yours

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