Tales from Adolescent Medicine
By Jessica Shannon Castonguay, DO, MPH
Jessica Shannon Castonguay, DO, MPH
I grew up in a hockey town, high school hockey that is. Most kids learn to skate as soon as they can walk there. In high school, I attended every game against our archrival. Then, before medical school, I taught biology and chemistry at that rival school and cheered against my alma mater. Hey, the rival was paying my bills! That said, I have continued to follow high school hockey from my home state regardless of where medicine has taken me.
I was ecstatic when one of these two teams won the state championship. Unfortunately, a few caught drinking and smoking while wearing clothing that identified them as the new state champions. The comments on the post actually angered me. They ranged from flippant remarks such as “kids will be kids” to outright disdain for anyone who thought this behavior required a consequence to calls for the team to be stripped of their title.
These young men had just achieved a feat that most athletes do not reach. They had a right to celebrate. They had a right to wear their state champion attire. However, when you wear your school’s colors, you are a representative of that school. Everything you do is reflective of that institution. At best, these young men had frank disrespect for athletes’ handbook and at worst they were participating in illegal activity.
I think the important issue here is being accountable for your actions. Excuses are common. I’m late to my appointment because my mom didn’t wake me up (Do you have an alarm clock?). I failed my test because the teacher didn’t do her job (Did you ask her to clarify the confusing topic?). I have chlamydia because my partner did not have a condom (Why didn’t you have one?). When did owning our mistakes and learning from them become unspeakable? Why does our self-worth as parents, educators, and physicians depend on having the perfect children, the most driven students, and the healthiest patients? Why do we help the adolescents in our life make excuses?
I think we often don’t hold the adolescents in our life accountable because it is easier. Enforcing a consequence takes time and patience. It takes a thick skin. When I was teaching, a varsity basketball starter was failing my class. As a result he was forced to sit out for two weeks until his grades were satisfactory for play. In those two weeks, I had meetings with his parents, his school counselor, his coach, and the vice principal. All but the vice principal wanted me to raise his grade in anticipation of his completing his work. I didn’t make too many friends that day.
Consequences need to be proportional to the offense. Stripping the state champions of their title may be overkill leading to more secretive, dangerous behaviors. Yet ignoring the infraction may send the message that underage drinking and smoking is acceptable and safe behavior. The administrative staff and school board settled on each involved player missing two weeks of his next sports season. Ultimately, the goal when working with teens is helping them navigate through their own developing ethics of right and wrong. Holding them accountable for their choices helps them to learn appropriate boundaries and acceptable behaviors.