by Jo Ann Wentzel

There are few superheros that surpass teens in feelings of immortality. Even kryptonite can hurt Superman, but teens believe nothing will affect them. You don't believe me? Watch them drive too fast, live on the edge, engage in casual sexual marathons, and do crime even when they suspect they may get caught. They seem to believe deep in their souls nothing can hurt them. Drugs and alcohol will have no effect on them. Of course, they won't get pregnant. Are you kidding contract some venereal disease or get AIDS. "Not Me," they answer.

I'm uncertain as to when this phenomenon first appears, but it definitely is apparent along with puberty in many kids we have worked with during our career. You assume at first they just forgot to put on their seat belt. They probably did not remember to study for the test whose grade is all that is standing between graduation and failure. You find out to your dismay they are sexually active and to add insult to injury, they "don't believe" in condoms or other forms of birth control.

Your teen jumps in the car and speeds off oblivious to dangers. He messes around with a friend in playful ways while driving. He drives fast and reckless with no regard for laws or signs. The music blaring makes it hard to concentrate on the act of wielding a 2000 pound weapon or carefully manoeuvring through the masses on the school parking lot. He is distracted by friends talking and calling to him and maybe by chemicals in his body that alter his thinking and reaction time. And he wonders in amazement why he just had an accident. It isn't true. He can't be injured, he's immortal. She's beautiful and young and anxious to become in her words, a "woman" . The reasoning can go something like this. I love him and he loves me. We are close to being adults and everyone knows nothing can happen the first time. Nine months later as she lays in labor, she is still unconvinced she is mortal. Bad things don't happen to me, I'm a kid. I can handle quitting school, not being with my friends, raising a baby, and doing it all alone since that jerk left. Or maybe it is just days later when she can't figure out where this rash and burning sensation came from, or months later when she is diagnosed as HIV positive. Still the feeling of immortality leads them to believe, not me. It won't happen to me. I'll never get pregnant, I'll never get VD, or Aids.

You notice the kids doing things you never considered doing. You not only knew they were wrong, but you realized they were dangerous. Would you have sniffed gasoline until every brain cell you owned was "out to lunch." How about getting involved with sexual acts where you choke each other until you are close to losing oxygen and your life. Gee, that sounds like fun. What about standing on the open window of a car while driving and trying to step across to a second car window. Or maybe you want to take your chances with drugs that few have even tried, but some reliable buddy claims is like going to heaven. Not realizing how close to the truth are his words. Kids engage in many activities which not only endanger their body, but their mind and they do it with abandon. Casual sex can often effect a young person's mental well being, their self-worth, and their emotional stability. Not all kids are as sophisticated as they wish you to believe. These kids would not do all these things if they did not believe they were immortal.

I can hear you out there. Some of you are products of the 60's like me. Yes, many kids smoked pot and some dared use LSD, but most were at least agreed it was unhealthy, a risk. The 50's saw their games of "chicken", but your average kid did not do those things since he feared the outcome. Today's kids do not acknowledge the fact that many activities can harm you and are dangerous. They believe they will be one of the lucky ones who escape untouched. They are after all, immortal.

Pointing out to these kids that what they do for fun may hurt them seems useless, but don't stop doing it. Since the people they listen to most are their peers, your voice needs to be heard. Their friends probably believe as they do, nothing can happen to me. I'm immortal. Gentle reminders in the form of post it notes with messages about wearing your seat belt or the importance of a test might be helpful. Critical problems with devastating consequences for bad choices need to be handled with more strictness and firmness. We can not stand by and watch these "immortal kids" kill themselves. We can not allow those we love to intentionally put themselves in danger. We must try to help. We must guide them to safety.

I believe in taking whatever steps necessary to ensure their safety if it means putting them into treatment for chemical abuse, getting a referral for an anger group, reporting their misdeeds to authorities, even spying on them if necessary. Parents must stop worrying about coddling kids, they must become tougher. They become tough by putting limitations on them, not by their thinking they are immortal. Kids must be kept within bounds until they are able to act responsibly on their own. We must protect kids even when it means violating some of their so called "rights."

A parent should find safe ways for their kids to satisfy the need for excitement and "living on the edge." They should interest them in hobbies, sports, or other activities that can give them a rush without the danger. Everyone needs to let loose from time to time, keep it fun and safe. Fun and excitement should not mean putting your health or life in jeopardy or spending the rest of your life in jail. It also should not mean parenting a child you are unprepared for and too immature to raise.

If you find the opportunity to discuss some of the popular and dangerous practices kids engage in, that is a great first step. Sometimes an incident in the paper or on the news will be a starting point. Usually that means a kid hurt himself or died as a result of the practice so the lesson is even more poignant. A TV segment can peek interest in a practice that kids feel is okay, but parents find dangerous. Seize this opportunity to ask your kids about their opinions of that activity. Be alert, listen to your kids, look at them, be aware of signs of any unusual and life-threatening activity they might have discovered. If you catch one of your kids actually engaging in such activity, consequence severely. (Remember, their life may be at stake.) If it continues get help through a therapist, social services, or police. Don't ignore it. Immortality is only in their minds. It is not a reality. And Foster Parents don't ever feel guilty for doing whatever it takes to prevent tragedy or protect kids. You may be all that is standing between them and disaster. Thanks for fostering.


Other articles on Foster Parent Community by Jo Ann Wentzel:

Biography of Jo Ann Wentzel

Between the years of 1966 and 1993, I brought children into life, into my foster home, into court, and into their own apartments. Mother of three, two natural children born to me and one foster kid who never left our family, grandmother to five, foster mom to over 75 kids, and mother, friend,, guardian angel,, or their worse nightmare, depending on which of the other hundreds of kids you ask.

A quarter of a century devoted to raising children, learning what issues concerned them, volunteering to help groups serving kids, and teaching others what little I know. Life Ready was our own business where we installed kids, who had no other choice, into their own apartment. My husband and I, as para-professionals, also were contracted by counties in Minnesota to supervise kids and work with families to help get foster kids back home. Before foster care, I was a licensed daycare provider and cared for all ages of children. During foster care, our specialty was teenaged boys and we had a group home where we served up to eight youth at a time. Street kids and gang members were among those we worked with and families ranged from traditional to what in the world. Our kids came from all over Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and North Dakota. Volunteer positions were held in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Minnesota.

I have held the position of Guardian-ad-Litem in Goodhue County, a paid not volunteer position. I trained to be a surrogate parent which enables you to sign I.E.Ps for children whose parents can't or won't. I have taken Mediator training for Minnesota court system. With my husband, I presented a seminar at the Minnesota Social Worker's Convention in Minneapolis, spoke at the Federal Medical Center( a prison), and gave several talks to school classrooms.

My book is about the experiences and adventures of a foster parent. It encourages creative parenting and offers useful methods and ideas for everyone raising kids. It features just a few of the many wonderful kids that lived with us.It tells how we ran our home of as many as eight teenaged foster kids at a time. It is written from the viewpoint of the expert, the one who does the job, the hands on provider- the foster parent.This book is currently looking for a publisher and will be available just as soon as we find one.




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