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Parenting Forum Identifies Key Issues Among Today's Youth

Candace Braun

Following last Monday's information session on gang violence, Rev. Frank Strasburger of the Trinity Church held a parenting forum at John Witherspoon Middle School to discuss what parents in the community can do about the issues facing Princeton's youth.

"I'm holding this meeting because I don't believe we have to raise our kids all by ourselves," said the former member of the Princeton Regional School Board on Thursday.

While a private investigator from the N.J. Department of Corrections assured parents last week that gang violence isn't a concern in Princeton, Rev. Strasburger said he felt a community parenting meeting could help troubleshoot the basic problems Princeton parents face while raising their children.

Rev. Strasburger recalled growing up in Baltimore, where parents and neighbors knew each other and would let one another know when they saw something suspicious at their homes, or saw their children misbehaving in public.

"I always knew that somehow what I did would get back to my parents," he said, adding that that feeling of neighborhood camaraderie, in discussing both friendly and serious issues with other parents, doesn't seem to be prevalent in Princeton today.

He also discussed the many issues that have been debated publicly regarding student parking around Princeton High School, suggesting the problem isn't the necessity for an organized parking system, but the need to relieve tensions that exist between youths that congregate on roads near the high school and the school's neighbors. Rev. Strasburger said that if the wall of anonymity was broken down, perhaps a social change, rather than a physical change regarding parking, would help alter the tensions in town.

With two children in college and one still in school, he relayed some of his own experiences raising his children in Princeton, noting how when he tried to get in touch with parents regarding their children's behavior, some were angered more by his attempts at communication than they were concerned for their child's well being.

"In a community of parents, not everyone has the same values," he said.

Parents may be reluctant to appear nosey or judgmental if they call the parents of their son's or daughter's friends when they know there is a problem, he said: "When a kid is in trouble, people need to be around to help."

Princeton parents need to work together to find a way to become parents together in the community, rather than trying to handle similar situations in different households on their own, said Rev. Strasburger: "[Being a parent] is the most important job that any of us has, and we're all flying by the seat of our pants."

Parents' Concerns

Parents broke into small groups to discuss the kinds of problems they deal with on a daily basis with their children, and to find a common ground to work on with other parents to help steer today's youth onto the right path.

Charlotte Bialek, Board vice president, suggested a "safe house" program that had been part of the community several years ago, homes where children felt they could go during an emergency or for every day problems: "I felt my kids knew a lot of people in town then."

Ms. Bialek added that youth appear to be too often looked at by area merchants as shoplifters just because they wear their hair a certain way or dress differently.

African American students also feel they are being profiled in town when standing in a group, particularly after the recent incidents of bias crimes in the Borough, she added: "We forget what it was like growing up – I find the animosity towards kids today very strange."

Underage drinking was also a concern discussed by parents, since one problem in town concerns parties where parents are present but not paying attention to what their children are doing. In addition, in an attempt to conceal the alcohol from adults, some teens will drink excessively in private before hanging out with their friends, a major health hazard. Parents need to be mindful of the condition of youths walking into their home and whether they appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, said Ms. Bialek.

Other ideas included forming a "no questions asked" phone chain where students could call for a ride home after they've been drinking, or forming various outlets for teens rather than one teen center, as youth often like to meet their own groups of friends in different places.

Some of the current hang-outs for teens that were mentioned include Halo Pub, Hoagie Haven, and "Knight Dreams," a card game center for boys run by a University graduate.

Offering outlets for teens in existing places in town could help, said Township Committeeman Lance Liverman, suggesting that the Garden Theatre offer a special discount rate for high school students, and not just University students.

Concerned parents will continue the dialogue on today's youth and try to find an area organization to take leadership of this movement, such as the Princeton Alcohol and Drug Alliance, said Board President Anne Burns following the meeting.

"It was a very worthwhile event, and a good first step. I hope we'll be able to move forward from this."

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