Believe it or not, every once in a while, I run out of things to say.  I run out of things to write about.  I feel like I've been standing on certain soap boxes for so long, there just isn't anything left to say. There's nothing new, and I feel that people are tired of hearing me say the same things over and over again. And then I realize, the truth never gets old.

For six years, I have worked with students in Rhea, Bledsoe, Sequatchie and North Hamilton counties.  Actually, when I first started, our coverage area included Meigs, McMinn and Bradley counties as well. I've been invited to speak to church youth groups, to parents, to teachers and community leaders.  That's more than 10,000 students that have heard our message since I started. Though my power point presentations have changed, and some numbers have changed, the meat is still the same.  Choices matter.

Many people look at making resolutions in January.  They commit to lose weight, to exercise, or to try new things.  But for our students, the new year doesn't start in January.  The new year starts in August.  It is a time of newness. New clothes. New teachers. New schools. New expectations.  And new temptations.

But here is something for parents to remember.  The issues our teens are facing today may be new to them.  However, they are not new to the world.  The only thing that has changed is the way the pressure is presented, and the way we address the issues.

In all reality, we live in a sex-saturated culture. Nearly every prime-time television show includes sexual content.  Add that to the exposure through music, advertising, movies and magazines, and the lack of portrayal of consequences, and it is no wonder our students believe they can live their lives any way they want, with no concern or thought for those around them. Simply tuning in to MTV one evening will give you a glimpse of the "yolo" lifestyle that is the cornerstone of today's generation.

What is "yolo?"  It's the idea that "you only live once," so you should live it up.  Many of today's teens live by this motto.  And I get so frustrated, because it is a lie.  Actually, we live every single day.  And the way we live today will affect the way we can live tomorrow, or two months from now, or 50 years from now. We only die once. And far too often, teen death is preventable.

The truth that never changes is that our choices matter.  Our choices affect other people.  Choices to engage in sexual activity, alcohol use, drug use and tobacco are choices that will affect the future.  Our students can't just live for today.  They can't live in the moment. They need to learn self control.  They need to learn the benefits of saying "no."  They need to learn that their dreams and goals can be accomplished, and now is the time to work toward them.  They need to know they aren't ever guaranteed a second chance.  That is the truth that needs to be told.

Another truth we overlook is that despite all the surrounding influences from media and peers, a large majority of my students say that the biggest influence in their life is their parents.  They are watching you.  They are listening to you.  What are you telling them?  What are your actions telling them?  Can we really expect our students to hold themselves to a higher standard if we don't hold them to a higher standard?  Or, better yet, what if we don't hold ourselves to a higher standard?  The truth is, the phrase "do as I say, not as I do," doesn't cut it anymore. We need to have these conversations.  Our kids need to know there are consequences to their actions.  They need to know the truth.

 

And why not have that conversation now?  As school is starting back up, use a car ride to school to start the conversation.  When going over rules for new classrooms and schools and discussing what teachers expect, why not let your children know what you expect?  Let them know that many of the same problems they face today are issues you dealt with when you were their age.  You may be met with comments like "you just don't understand," or "you are so old."  But remember, the truth never gets old.