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Ohio Valley parents, have we got problems.

February 19, 2009 - Betsy Bethel
NOTE: I originally posted this blog on the Web site Tuesday, Feb. 17, but in case you missed it, I am re-posting it on the newspapers' site.

I was privileged to learn a lot about Ohio County's education resources — private, parochial and college — this morning at a Leadership Wheeling training session. A panel of local administrators started off the morning session with a little about their respective institutions, and then a question-and-answer period ensued. It was very informative.

Then I asked about drug and alcohol use among our local teens -- whether they thought it had changed over the years, do the institutions educate their students about the dangers of substance abuse and how they feel parents play a role.

The panelists agreed alcohol is the "drug of choice" among teens. This isn't news, of course. We know for a fact that, according to the 2003 and 2005 West Virginia PRIDE Survey, a self-reporting survey, Ohio County had the third highest rate of youth alcohol use in the state. The average age Ohio County kids start drinking alcohol is 11.

Kids down through the generations have drunk alcohol. But the panelists this morning said something has changed.

Ohio County Schools Superintendent Larry Miller called it parental "submissiveness."

Joe "Doc" Viglietta, principal of Wheeling Central Catholic High School, called it "permissive parenting."

Chad Burnett, incoming head of school at Linsly, said parents are overprotecting their children to the point the kids are unable to make decisions for themselves.

Brent Bush, vice president of institutional advancement at Wheeling Jesuit University said he sees kids at the college level unable to function independently without Mom and Dad to bail them out of every jam. Martin J. Olshinsky, president of West Virginia Northern Community College, agreed.

Burnett, who speaks with about 200 families a year during the admissions process to the private, independent school, said he sees parents struggling with wanting the best for their children to the point that they will do anything for them. At Linsly, he said, the school tries to counteract that philosophy with a no-quit policy. If you don't get the lead in the school play but you land a supporting role, you see it through. If you aren't the star football player, you sit on the bench and root for your team. No one is permitted to quit.

Viglietta said parents who clear every obstacle from the paths of their children are cheating them out of education and are not preparing them for life.

How does this relate to alcohol abuse, you may be thinking?

Those same parents that coddle and cosset and blaze the trail for their children, the panelists indicated, seem to be the same ones allowing their children to drink alcohol in their homes, hosting parties and even possibly hanging out and drinking with the teens and their friends.

Burnett said he'll never forget a 16-year-old admissions candidate who told him in an interview that he had no curfew, "so I don't drink every night," he said, "but most nights." Asked why he wanted to attend Linsly, he said that even though he gets everything he wants, he isn't happy.

When Burnett interviewed the parents they told him all they wanted is for their son to be happy. That true story made me feel so sad ... and frustrated ... and motivated.

It doesn't have to be this way! There are a couple of new books out with some sound advice for parents to help get them out of this entitlement mindset that is crippling our children. One, mentioned by Doc Viglietta and published in April 2008, is "A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting," by Hara Marano, editor-at-large of Psychology Today. Another, published in September, is "I'm Not Your Friend, I'm Your Parent," by E.D. Hill, formerly of Fox News and a mother of eight.

Says Hill: "If your greatest desire is to be your children's best friend, if you want stress-free relationships with your children, if you find it impossible or uncomfortable to admit that your children will be disobedient, sneaky or deceptive sometimes, don't read this book. It's not pretty."

On the contrary, I would say that's exactly who should read her book, and Marano's.

Here's another way to think about it. Who do you want looking out for your interest when you need a little help in your last years? Or, even better, who do you want raising your grandchildren? The child you taught to be a self-starter, a high-achiever, a caring, community- and family-minded individual who takes responsibility for his or her actions, is gainfully employed and isn't an alcoholic? Or the one to whom you gave everything, all your life, who is ungrateful, irresponsible, unemployed and has no comfort, solace or support to offer you?

Think about it. Then act on it. It's NEVER too late.


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