Recognize your teen’s problems

Steve Brown's picture

We always like to think that “our child” will always behave well, follow school rules and obey the law. However, every year a whole host of students manage to wind up in trouble at school or violating the law.

One Saturday afternoon, during my term as mayor, I went to complete some work at City Hall. As I pulled into the parking lot, several high school students were riding their skateboards on the benches in the plaza.

The city had purchased expensive park benches with rubberized coatings, used by people taking a break from the library and the municipal court on nice days.

The young men were damaging the benches, and I told them to stop or I would call the police. They left.

I saw them the next weekend, ruining the benches again, jotted down their license plate numbers and called the police. They saw me and fled, but the police caught up with them.

We had a meeting, including parents, at City Hall. The young men were stunned when I informed them the benches cost over $1,500 apiece and they had entered felony territory. The police also discovered they had damaged property at a local high school.

What the teens thought to be lighthearted fun could have had very serious consequences.

Young people, at times, have a difficult time comprehending the significance of their actions. Regrettably, many parents are not much help with assisting their children in recognizing potential dangers.

There have been incidences across the country where young people, mostly boys, try to emulate the dangerous stunts of the Jackass television show and movie. The Jackass spectacle has boys riding bicycles off a cliff or setting themselves on fire, recording the scene on video, uploading it to the Internet. These stunts have left many with broken bones and killed others.

The material you see on the Internet is proof-positive that active parental guidance should not end when your child enters middle school.

Numerous studies have shown the greatest action parents can take is consistently talking to their child about the issues (drugs, alcohol, sex, destruction of property, inappropriate behavior, etc.), especially the consequences. Truly, they need to know that certain actions can lead to bodily harm, pregnancy addiction, arrest or death.

The beginning of the school year is the perfect time to work with your child on identifying potential behavior problems and finding ways to avoid them.

The top disciplinary offense for Fayette elementary school students (2008-2009) was inappropriate behavior, occurring 298 times. Physical aggression was a close second. Being disruptive in class, misbehavior on the bus and being disrespectful round out the top five offenses.

Inappropriate behavior also topped the list of offenses at the middle school level with 343 cases cited. Cell phone use ranked number two, while violating teacher detention, disruptive behavior and physical aggression round out the top five offenses.

Fortunately, inappropriate behavior and physical aggression did not make the top five for high school students. Rather, their number one offense was being tardy to school a whopping 2,824 times. Cell phone usage was a distant second at 1,546. The remaining three on the list are violating teacher detention, dress code violations and not following instructions.

Our young people need to be told that certain types of misbehavior can lead to their expulsion from school or their arrest.

Just as important, teenagers need to know their legal rights. A young person who has been accused of a crime should wait for a parent to arrive before speaking to anyone.

J. Tom Morgan, a respected former prosecutor and experienced trial lawyer, has written an excellent book entitled, “Ignorance is No Defense: A Teenager’s Guide to Georgia Law” ($15 at This book is just as beneficial for parents as it is for their children.

Morgan does an excellent job explaining the law and citing real life examples. And the book can serve as a discussion starter for parent-child dialogs on making wise decisions for life.

If your child has a history of misbehavior in school or hangs around with students who end up in trouble, I strongly suggest you buy Morgan’s book.

Interaction with your child’s teacher and principal is also important. If you feel you need to go higher up the ladder, schedule a meeting with Mr. C.W. Campbell, Coordinator of Safety, Discipline and Athletics Gender Equity in Sports for the FCBOE. I have heard Mr. Campbell’s philosophy on school discipline and I find his approach to be reasonable and fair.

Trouble begins when parents, like the ones whose boys who were caught spraying graffiti on public and private property, have no idea what their sons are doing, failing to engage them in meaningful conversation.

There is no substitute for involved parenting. To be honest, it is rare to see students in trouble whose parents are active in the PTO, booster clubs, etc.

The aforementioned skateboarders kept their promise and never damaged property thereafter. They are all in their mid-20s now.

I pray their eye-opening experience with the law keeps them on the right path for the future.

[Steve Brown is the former mayor of Peachtree City. He can be reached at]

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