Back-to-School Advice for Parents

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Commentator Rochelle Riley offers some advice for parents getting their kids ready for a new school year. Riley is a columnist for The Detroit Free Press.

ED GORDON, host:

One sure sign summer's winding down, ads for back-to-school sales are everywhere. Commentator Rochelle Riley offers some advice for parents getting their kids ready for a new school year.


It's time to shop for back to school, but instead of trawling the malls, parents might do well to survey the marketplace of ideals and common sense. As teens are wearing pajamas and thongs to class, our kids might need to pack up more than graphing calculators and three-ring binders. We need to help them navigate toward their moral centers. For many students, those are hard to find. Their parents have thrown up their hands and given up on discipline, challenge and high expectation. They've given in to whining, peer pressure and keeping up with the Diddys.

Our teens are learning that sex is no longer a big deal, that hooking up is more temporary than ever, the kind of casual sex that used to exist only in movies teen-agers weren't supposed to see without parental supervision. A recent NBC/People magazine poll found that at least 28 percent of 15-year-olds in America are having sex. Since kids tend to bend the truth, we know it's more than that. Back in the Dark Ages, as my teen-age daughter calls my youth, I wasn't allowed to date until I was 18. So I find it distressing to see more and more girls dressing like prostitutes while boys wear twice the clothes they used to in twice the sizes.

This isn't just the accepted attire at most high schools. It's required if the kid has any hope of fitting in. More and more, teens are learning that being too smart and showing it means you're not down. Acting ignorant, on the other hand, might land you a record deal. Forget that there are only a couple of hundred deals each year for the couple of million kids who want them. And doing what the crowd does earns you props, but not the kind of respect that can get you a job.

While we're supplying the kids backpacks this month, we really need to shop for more than pencils and books. We've got to help our teens comb the racks for reminders that their lives can be about discipline and ambition, about achievement and morality. We need to help them make room in their mental backpacks for the ability and self-respect to say `no.' We need to remind them that you don't have to be down if being down really does take you down.

Sometimes, it's OK to be the nerd, to be the one who gets teased for being right, for being honest. We must teach our children that it's possible to be popular while maintaining their moral centers or help them understand that losing some popularity is an appropriate sacrifice for being a better person.

GORDON: Rochelle Riley is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press.

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