I read with interest Meredith Carroll’s column in the Aspen Times on the decline and fall of Aspen’s youth. While she writes an interesting column on youth, parenting, drugs and sex, I must respectfully disagree with the impression left by the description of various misdeeds by parents and their children.
Yes, Aspen has its share of miscreants and bad parents and has in the 40 years I have lived here. Back when I was a crime reporter, there was a little less hide the ball on some of the excess to which we and the youth in our care lived. But, then and now, the outliers grabbed our attention as might be expected in a society obsessed with morality plays about rich people gone bad, working people gone worse and the rest of us left to consider this latest sign of the apocalypse.
Then, as now, the community abounded with the sorts of stories that make for headlines and voracious consumption of newspapers: parents sharing drugs, sex and alcohol with minors. Parents leaving the kids with cash, cars and a house ready-made for a remake of “Risky Business” or “Animal House” (old school) or “Project X” (new school). Yes, unsupervised young people do tend toward the extreme and facilitating parents can turn a crazy night into a tragedy. But they aren’t the majority and they aren’t part of a new, dark trend about to engulf us.
I’ve been a crime reporter, a substitute teacher, a coach, a mentor, a legal guardian, a big brother in a big family and an uncle for a small family. I have some good news: There’s a lot of good parenting out there, and it shows up in the behavior of our kids.
It just isn’t as sensational and dramatic as stories that combine drugs, sex, wealth and crime. Part of the problem is that the kids here who work and try hard, play by most of the rules and go on to do good or do well more or less drop off the radar after high school as few can afford or want to come back to the valley for more than a vacation or a visit. We have only so many openings for successful professionals, entrepreneurs and budding philanthropists.
After all, this is a small place that needs only a handful of doctors, lawyers, brain surgeons, venture capitalists and climate advocates. If you are good or very good at something, the big challenges are out there waiting for you. And the competition for a place here is stiff: Many accomplished people have come here to live in semi-retirement and put their children into the seat at the nationally ranked school system you just left.
Wandering among the various career paths and avocations that survival here necessitates and invites, I have seen young people do great things academically, athletically and socially. Without embarrassing them by name, I have seen certain young people step up to help others learn, live or just get by. The kids who raise money for local charities, start environmental groups, share their academic proficiency with peers, say no to bullies, protest injustice and just generally do the right thing most of the time are the silent majority.
To be sure, I am grateful that my own parents, while somewhat less than ideal, had neither the inclination nor opportunity to leave me unattended and in possession of cars, money and a party house. I can’t guarantee that I would have been able to say no to some of the craziness we see here from time to time.
It’s also worth reflecting on the fair number of kids who did crazy, criminal or quasi-criminal shit and managed to turn their lives around as the influence of those most powerful drugs — human hormones — receded with time, leaving them a chance at a second chance. Again, names can’t be named lest a comeback or two or 10 be ruined by any detailed disclosure. Rest assured some of the most respected among us got off to the sort of bad start that makes for headlines.
As for advice, if you don’t want to see your kids in the crime reports, I can only offer one lesson carefully plagiarized and synthesized here: Teaching by example is not just the best way to teach, it’s the only way.