Originally created 07/24/01

Affluent teens face problems



What started as an all-night party for more than 200 Columbia County teen-agers last fall ended with 16 teen-agers receiving citations for drug possessions and underage drinking.

The raid on the Hardy McManus Road party began shortly after 2 a.m. and kept deputies busy for hours checking license plates on parked cars and chasing teens.

With the new school year only weeks away, some say these so-called "field parties" are mostly harmless - just another rite of passage to adulthood.

But experts warn this type of partying can be the beginning step in a path of destruction.

That is not to say, however, that all teen-agers will choose this path. In fact, most experts agree that this type of partying is experimentation, a part of growing up.

For children in Columbia County, growing up often means attending a good school, living in luxury homes with successful, loving parents, driving a nice car and having the best of what life has to offer.

But all too often, having too much can lead to trouble.

The Rev. Stanley Roat, co-director of Pastoral Care Associates, a counseling center for families, says that children have a desire to be different than their parents and to prove that they are indeed different.

"It's the independent phase that comes in the teen-age years," he said. "And there's a lot of experimentation which is natural at that time."

But just when does the experimental phase end and the problematic stage begin?

Psychologists and counselors concede that such behaviors can be indicative of deeper turmoil in a teen's life.

But the question remains: Why would the teens who seem to have it all screw up?

Clinical psychologist Jesse Lewis says that teens in general are often searching for a sense of individuality.

Dr. Lewis says that the need for an identity coupled with the enormous need to belong, to feel accepted, to have certain possessions and to be independent can be overwhelming to a teen.

"In our society, we don't have those agreed-upon rites of passage that please everyone," he said. "(Teens) know they have to rebel and do their own thing, but a lot of times our society, our culture doesn't give them nice, healthy agreeable outlets."

So in the same manner as inner-city teens, suburban teens embark on the journey to establish their own identities.

"In some ways the situations are very different and in some ways it's exactly same," the Rev. Roat said.

Typically, suburban kids, such as many of those in Columbia County, are coddled, the Rev. Roat said. Many aren't expected to carry their weight by earning money or doing household chores. These teens are the receivers in life. And as a result, their affluent lifestyle often leaves them with an emptiness, a lack of meaning in their lives, psychologists say.

"In some ways it's a reflection of a lenient, nondemanding, keep-the-kids-safe-and-happy attitude in the community," the Rev. Roat said.

Regardless of the lifestyle, the need is the same - immediate gratification. So where do they turn for that instant high? Often, it's drugs and alcohol.

"I think you have two extremes, but for the most part the problems teen-agers encounter are completely independent of their socioeconomic status," said Dr. Kevin Turner, a psychologist at the Medical College of Georgia.

Drugs and alcohol do not discriminate. The teens in Columbia County have the same need for immediate gratification as those teens who have less. That's why psychologists often term such vices as "an equal opportunity destroyer."

So just what is the solution?

Experts say a good place to start is by setting rules for teens and following through with consequences if they break the rules.

"Unstructured and unsupervised time can lead to problems, even with a good kid," Dr. Turner said.

Dr. Turner's simplest advice might be the most difficult: talk. He advises parents to get to know their teens: Ask questions about their day, their friends and their life in general. In short, the more you know, the less likely they are to fall victim to the traps of such vices.

Often suburban parents, such as those in Columbia County, are too busy focusing on providing for their families and filling their lives with material possessions that they forget to spend quality time with them.

Dr. Lewis also suggests that parents set aside some time each day to sit down and talk with their teens. He recommends allowing teens the opportunity to express their feelings about whatever they want to.

"Also let them have some input on consequences or punishments they'll receive if they break the rules, so that they just don't feel that's just imposed on them," he said.

Reach Ashlee Griggs at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 109

Editor's Note: Columbia County has some of our region's best schools and most affluent neighborhoods, but the upscale community does not escape the problems of young people everywhere. This week, The Augusta Chronicle joins television station WRDW-TV (Channel 12) in a report about the county's troubled teens. Channel 12 continues its report tonight, and The Chronicle will follow Wednesday by outlining the warning signs every parent should know.