What keeps teens on track

Helping teenagers find order and direction can be a complicated task. Where to begin?

For many parents, a new federally funded study offers guidance. It finds youngsters may be headed for trouble if they are low performers in school and spend a lot of unsupervised time with peers (see story on page 2).

While that may seem obvious, the study found those factors matter much more than race, family income, and whether a household has one parent or two. Yet those indicators have long shaped scholarship, policymaking, and general assumptions about teen behavior. And they're often things that kids and their families either can't change, or can't change quickly.

Not so for the items underscored by the new study. They can surface in any family, and most families can address them or get help in doing so. Which is not to say it's always easy.

Take poor schoolwork. In many cases, bad study habits and dismal grades can be corrected through the diligence of parents and teachers. Teenagers, however, are famous for outlasting their would-be instructors. Creative, inspired thinking may be needed to break through a teen's conviction that school is boring.

And unsupervised time with friends? Greater parental or adult involvement, often including community efforts to provide supervised recreation, is indispensable.

Nothing substitutes for adults - parents, but also other relatives, coaches, teachers - who are intensely interested in seeing kids succeed in life. Without that kind of presence, kids too often turn to other kids, and sometimes descend into substance abuse and sexual experimentation.

The study doesn't put much emphasis on religious involvement of youth. Even religious families can have problem teens. But some grasp of a child's God-given identity is an indispensable resource.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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