The recent shootings at a teenager's graduation party in Wesley Chapel remind us what can happen when parents abdicate responsibility for their children and your children.
As high school graduations occur this week, I would like to share a metaphor once shared with me by a good friend and former cake baker-turned-counselor. The metaphor has always guided me when it came to my own daughter.
Anyone who has ever baked a cake from scratch knows that it takes the best of ingredients, loads of patience and it can't be rushed — much like raising children. You place the cake in the oven. At some point, you look in the oven and note that it smells and looks done. But you don't pull it out of the oven and set it on the counter and assume it is done. You take a small knife or a toothpick and press it into the cake. If it comes out clean, you know the cake is done. If it comes out gooey, you know that even though the cake looks done, it isn't.
Your proud, beaming high school graduate, all dressed up, may look done, but more than likely he or she is still gooey inside. In the coming days, don't set your child on the counter and assume he or she is done.
Your role as parent is even more important now. My daughter is now 28 and married and I still haven't quit. She recently took a trip to Italy, and I gave her lecture 101 again. Please call when you land in New York and Italy. Be careful in crowded places like train stations and other public places. Stay alert and keep your eyes on the horizon. The only difference this time was that I added her husband to the lecture. You will always be your child's parent.
High school seniors-turned-graduates are ready to get on with their lives. They are approaching a very wonderful and rewarding moment in their lives and their parents' lives, but please do not forget that this is a time of great vulnerability for children.
Graduation is a time when young people cut loose, and even the best of them are prone to lapses in judgment. Do not relinquish your authority as a parent. Remember, they may look done, but they are still gooey inside. Give them lecture 101 again. It goes something like this:
• Tell them how much you love them and that you will not sleep until they are home safely.
• Tell them you intend to worry. If they feel guilty, that's a good thing. It shows they have a conscience.
• Know where they are going and insist on an itinerary.
• Encourage or require them to check in, especially if they are changing venues.
• Network with their friends' parents. Parenting conspiracies and collusions are good.
• Let them know that if they need to be picked up, you are on call.
If you are hosting a graduation party, get plenty of adults to help and don't allow underage kids free access to alcohol. If they are going to a large party, call the host and inquire about supervision and drinks. Offer to help. If other adults are hosting a party and knowingly serving or sanctioning underage drinking, this is a crime and should be reported to law enforcement.
Great joy and great tragedy are often separated by only a fleeting moment. Every year in communities across this nation, young people full of hopes and dreams die or are injured on one of the most precious nights of their lives.
Please remember, they may look done but they are still gooey inside. They are not done yet.
Ray Gadd is an assistant superintendent in the Pasco County School District.