I was a good kid.
I should clarify. Really, I was a wussy kid. I’d follow the directions of any authority figure–parents, teachers, public service videos with cartoon characters asking me to conserve water. I always felt behind, socially and developmentally, so maybe I lingered a bit too long in Kohlberg’s pre-conventional stage of moral development.
When my circle of friends started doing the things that (I guess) most young adults do–drinking–I got uncomfortable. Started in high school. Lasted well into my twenties. It hurt. They were doing things that I “knew” were wrong and dangerous. I felt left out, not good enough, and terribly terribly nervous for my friends’ safety. I still don’t drink. It’s mostly a non-issue (I love to drive, so adding the adjective “designated” is fine by me), but there’s still an emotional smoothie of sadness, anxiety, and a dash of superiority when my peers imbibe. I’m not proud of that, but it’s not going anywhere.
But this anxiety is only worse as a teacher. My students are drinking. Not all of them, sure, and most are probably only doing so occasionally. But the thought breaks my heart.
I more or less try to stay out of their personal lives. It’s none of my business, really. I overhear things in the hallway. The looks on some kids’ faces when conversations turn to these issues make it all too clear. And sometimes, they just come right out and tell me.
But if they’re reading To Kill a Mockingbird or meeting their deadlines, then that’s all I’m really supposed to do. I’m not a counselor or a parent. I’m definitely not a friend, as much as I want to be sometimes. If I’m going to stick with this career and hear those conversations, though, I’ve gotta develop much thicker skin, because I can’t just stick my head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening.
Drinking is a hobby reserved for adults because it’s risky, so kids shouldn’t be doing it. But even worse–even more upsetting to me–is this: alcohol is for adults because adults’ lives are boring. And if an adult, whose sense of wonder and passion dimmed long ago, wants to make the weekend or wedding or ballgame a little more lively with alcohol, it’s understandable. Like buying some reading glasses when one’s vision grows weak, a responsible adult has every right to enhance an evening’s enjoyment with alcohol.
So why do my kids need it? Has their fascination with life, their ability to find excitement in everything really been dulled to the point where they have to get wasted every weekend? It seems so irresponsible, but it’s also sad.
With my peers, the root of my anxiety was their immediate physical safety and, more honestly, not fitting in when they picked up their new hobby. For my students, though, I’m more scared of what’s making them want to drink in the first place.
I know they’ve got pressure. With mid-terms and two yearbook deadlines this month, I’m a primary source of genuine stress right now. My expectations are high: I assign my freshmen a chapter of reading per night while my coworkers play them an audiobook. My seniors write six-page research papers, only to fail when they don’t bother to cite their sources correctly. And my yearbook staff seems all too familiar with the face I make when I’m not satisfied with their efforts.
Add fix or six other classes of similar difficulty, maybe a part-time job, family issues, and the unbelievable melodrama in their social lives, and I can see how they’re growing up too fast, getting to that point where nothing seems fun anymore. I just wish it wasn’t happening so fast.