By Choice?
Inside the Outdoors, October 30, 2009

When a 94 year-old woman and I sat down and talked about decision making, particularly involving youth of today, I definitely, at first, had a difference of opinion. Now, after giving it some thought, I understand what she was saying, yet, I don’t think it’s as easy as it may have been back in her time concerning choice. Here was her statement. “Every time a youth decides to do something, it is his choice to do it.” Now that may sound elementary in nature, but when it comes right down to it, it’s not as simple as all that. Unfortunately, many factors play into decision making daily, not only by youth, but adults as well. So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.

I first would like to tell you a little about my elementary school experience. Between first and sixth grade, I was a loner. The group played games together, but never would include me. It was never my pick to be excluded, but my peers.

I only mention this because of my conversations with others. I found out they had the same experiences. Many of these students, consequently, ended up as dropouts.

One woman told me she felt separated from her classmates for this reason – “I was one from the other side of the tracks…poor, new clothes was not often…more hand me downs…parents did not attend PTA meetings.” Another – “I had polio when I was three and was left with a deformed left arm. Kids can be mean. I remember when we played games in school, nobody wanted me on their team.” And another - “I was always the last kid to be picked on gym teams.”

As is the case with many of my stories, I did send out a survey to ascertain how many people felt alienated from their peers in their growing up years. The breakdown – 33% yes, 67% no. Still, one-third was affected emotionally during their growing up years.

A woman in her mid-twenties asked me, “Don’t you remember being a kid and hating it when adults talked down to you? Being a kid is tough, and adults tend to forget about that. I never want to forget how hard it can be to be a kid, when acceptance of friends is so important and the littlest things seem to ruin your life.” That brings me to the subject at hand, peer pressure.

Yes, the woman to whom I spoke was right-in a sense. But, factors enter into every choice one makes – youths or adults. For teens, in particular, being accepted is a very big deal, and rejection may leave one standing alone just as many of us did in our growing up years. As the woman said, “Being a kid is tough,” so it is with teens as well.

I went down to Legion Keener Park a number of times and asked teens if peer pressure played into their actions. I sensed the emotion of one youth who opened up to me stating, “You just wouldn’t know.” The senior citizen argued, “It doesn’t matter. It’s still their choice whatever they do.” Yes, I agree. I want to make it perfectly clear that saying no to sex, drugs and alcohol is the right way to go. I listened to teens who proudly told me they don’t drink, smoke or do drugs, and that was their choice, and they were proud of it. And these were the same youth who were willing to listen as I told them how great it would be if they entered into a life with Jesus Christ. And they were receptive to what I had to say.

In his recent pastoral letter, “The Transmission of Faith in the Present Culture,” Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt wrote, in talking about youth, “Despite their age, psychological and emotional maturity levels, and physical development, our children and teenagers often face very difficult challenges.” This statement, very much, plays into what I’m trying to convey. I can’t help but refer back to the woman who related, “Being a kid is tough, and adults tend to forget about that.” Do you think the elderly woman forgot about that, or was she living in another time period when she grew up? I happen to think the latter.

Do you think young people want and like to be loners? I sure didn’t. Do you suppose that’s why people fall victim to negative influences? I think so. I believe they loose their focus on that which is good. What, as onlookers, are we doing about it – criticizing, pointing fingers, making false accusations, or stepping in, offering to persuade those feeling pressured, that, just maybe, there is a better path to walk- not one of hopelessness, but one with a future through a relationship with God? Our efforts may save a life!

- Paul J. Volkmann
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