By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli
It is hard to believe that summer is almost over and everyone with children is getting back on the school track. Colleges around the country are in full swing. Elementary schools, middle schools and high schools have students beginning in each for the first time. Family life has returned hopefully to normalcy — whatever that means!
The beginning of the new school year is always an excellent time for reflection, reassessment and evaluation regarding the things that are most important in most of our lives.
The present political landscape is probably the most combative and explosive in this century. Our children are witnessing a public discourse that is more than disturbing not because of the ideas and issues being discussed but rather because of the demeaning language being used that is discriminating and bordering on hate rather than unity.
Each new school year is an opportunity for parents to clarify their expectations of their children from participating in family life, to school expectations and social behavior.
Parents should not be afraid to set clear expectations in each area. It is not unreasonable to expect children who live at home to join in the family dinner, without smartphones, headsets or iPods. Dinner time should be an opportunity to share and support each other — a time to laugh and catch up on what is happening in each family member’s life.
It is not unreasonable to have a weekday curfew and a weekend curfew for your children living at home who are in middle school and/or high school. It can be adjusted based on age and grade and should be flexible enough to be adapted based on a son or daughter’s social activities. Parents who have students in elementary, junior and senior high school should restrict their children’s use of the internet. Parents should know to which social media their children connect.
Social media can be an excellent tool or a weapon of human and emotional destruction. Cyberbullying is becoming epidemic everywhere. If your knowledge of social media is limited or nonexistent, get educated. Most school districts sponsor valuable workshops in this regard.
As the new school year unfolds, you need to talk very seriously with your children about their social behavior and their social choices. Do not delude yourself. Your junior and senior high school students are increasingly more sexually active. They need to act in this regard respectfully and protectively. Ignorance is no excuse.
Drinking and drug use continued to be a problem in our community. Underage drinking is dangerous and can become reckless. Too many teenagers are under the influence of alcohol at parties when they are first introduced to opiates and other dangerous drugs.
The heroin epidemic is now a national health crisis. In our own community the clergy are burying at least one young person a week who has overdosed on heroin.
Don’t let your children fool you; oftentimes when they are using illegal substances they will drink a few swigs of beer before they get home so that they make you think that they are just drinking and as a parent you take a sigh of relief and say to yourself at least it’s not drug use!
As parents, we need to be more vigilant and diligent in our parenting. It is definitely among the most challenging and rewarding occupations. Our children are counting on us!
Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.