I am often asked to speak to parent groups, to provide my perspective on the risks our kids face and provide my advice on what parents can do to minimize these risks. After blathering on about this topic many years ago during an interview on KFOR radio, I wrote down some of these tips. Reading them now, nearly a quarter century later, is somewhat amusing.
Tuesday night, I found myself in the gymnasium at St. Teresa's School, talking to another parents group on the same topic, with a more up-to-date message about those things that have changed since 1990. Towards the end, I said something rather provocative, to the effect that today is the golden age of parenting. What I meant by that is that in many respects there hasn't been a better time than today (at least during my lifetime) to be a parent of a teenager.
I explained my rationale: the number one threat to the well being of teenagers is a motor vehicle crash. Traffic crashes are down dramatically in Lincoln and nationwide during the past three decades. The rate of fatal crashes per million miles driven has been slashed by more than half. Lots of things underlie this. Consider the improvements in safety equipment like seatbelts, airbags, antilock brakes, lighting systems, stability control, bike helmets, crumple zones, defrosters, and high-visibility gear. Roadway engineering improvements have been made, drunk driving is taken much more seriously, and an entire field of emergency medicine has matured with remarkable results. In some communities, mortuaries used to do double duty as ambulance services. Now, paramedics are performing life-saving procedures in the field and the emergency care starts immediately upon their arrival.
In addition to improved traffic safety, other things have changed since 1990. A parent today can normally be in instant communication with a teenager at any time from any place. If you want, you can know precisely where your teen is, and what his maximum speed was this week. Because of social media, an attentive parent has opportunities to spot the early signs of problematic behavior and intervene before catastrophe strikes. And the crime rate is lower--considerably so.
To be sure, there are some new risks that have emerged during that same time, that we would not have dreamed of in 1990 (sharing selfies of your private parts and texting while driving come immediately to mind), but on balance, kids are safer today by a big margin, despite the perception to the contrary.
Here's a problem though: many mistakes in judgement teens made in earlier generations simply disappeared after a few years. No one remembered, and the records, if any, were protected by their practical obscurity. Today, a screw up lives on and can come back to bite many years later. That arrest in Panama Beach will now be a Google search away, and the selfie once out there, will not fade and cannot be pulled back. We are just now beginning to see the surfacing of past peccadilloes from the bowels of the Internet to hurt young adults who never dreamed at the time that they would be revisited in the future by their past.