Rather than framing the discussion around teenagers doing what they want, and how parents navigate those waters during a deadly pandemic, the news about recent high school graduates getting the coronavirus focused on the school itself and negative stereotypes.

A few weeks ago, our son Thornton “graduated” from The Lovett School. He is in the class and at the school that made national and international headlines last week. They went something like this: “‘Several’ new Lovett School graduates test positive for coronavirus.”

Some of the class of 2020 students tested positive for COVID-19. I imagine it happened at a few schools. Everything is opening back up, and these teenagers have been sheltering in place along with the rest of us since mid-March.

The least surprising news is these students got together to celebrate their graduation. There may have been a false sense of security, but here’s the breaking news: Occasionally, teenagers do stupid stuff.

Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

Admittedly this is different. We are living through a global pandemic. As parents, we have been fairly strict with our two teenagers. But over the last few weeks, we allowed them to get together with their friends in small groups, no more than 10 people, outdoors and they had to stay six feet apart.

Then graduation weekend rolled around. Parents, administrators and teachers held many discussions about how to honor the class of 2020. They settled on a parade through campus, marking the first time the administration opened it up since the shutdown in March.

The school requested we stay in our cars with our families and drive through slowly as teachers waved, rang cowbells and said goodbye. Many parents, students and teachers shed tears.

Less than a week later, we learned of the COVID 19 outbreak from the school. A few days later, the daily newspaper ran a story about students at a prestigious private school in Buckhead testing positive after a weekend of parties and road trips during a global heath crisis. It led to anger and outrage.

The article quoted no health care professionals suggesting teens, too, should wear masks when in crowds, no psychologists gave advice on how to get through to your teens during this crisis. No sociologists were opining that with the reopening, teenagers were going to get together and get the virus, and possibly spread it to their loved ones because teenagers can be irresponsible.

When our children leave the house, their mother states the rules, repeats some statistics from the day’s news and hands them a mask and hand sanitizer. When they return, she reminds them without fail to wash their hands thoroughly.

If I were 17 and it had been my mother, Mary Bird, lecturing me, I would have thrown all of that stuff on the back seat and forgotten everything she said by the time I hit the end of the driveway.

Teenagers are indestructible, immortal even. They have the hubris of Greek gods. They are aware bad things are out there, but none of that has anything to do with them.

Are we so removed from those years that we’ve forgotten the arrogance of our youth? It’s the nature of the beast regardless of the times or the school.

The damage, unfortunately, is done. Summer opportunities have been withdrawn. Everyone seems to be pointing fingers along predicatively political lines. The lives of these graduates, already upended, were in complete chaos.

I say this in all sincerity — it is an amazing class. We’ve been around some of these guys for 13 years now. We know them. We know their families. They are good kids. Perfect? No, but they are a solid group.

Now they have been stained as reckless and irresponsible, more interested in themselves and their parties than in the health of others. That’s not who they are. It’s what a few of them did, but again, they are teenagers.

There was a chance to educate young folks — not just this group — about how their decisions can impact other people. Two generations ago, mothers banded together to found Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Over time, it changed the way teenagers behave. That was the opportunity, lost.

The good news is this is a resilient group. They will shake it off and accomplish great things, and they’ll be all the wiser for it.

Of that I am certain.

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Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is the president of PR South and a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at tkennedy@prsouth.net.


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