Based on recent events and the new school year, I went on a survey tour. I went to discover the answer to the question: “Are high school teenagers different today than they were 10, 25 or 35-years ago?”

Bruce Wallace

Why this survey now?

Because the national opioid crisis is on our doorstep. This is not exactly new here, but it is critical that parents are aware of the specific problems – and what affects their teenagers today.

Plus, it has been a decade since I was the dad of a high school senior – I wanted to discover just how out-of-touch I might be.

I talked to a couple of teachers, a few parents, a grandparent, a coach, an employer and another newspaper editor – who’s children are almost in high school.

The answers were not surprising – but the conversations did reach some conclusions.

A third of those I talked to said, “No.” Teens are no different today than they ever were. However, the world has changed drastically.

Two-thirds said, “Absolutely – teens are different today.”

I would agree with both sides. Teens are no different today than ever. Capable of fending for themselves and a big belief that they are indestructible, teens throughout history have more energy than experience and more muscle than brains.

On the other hand, today’s teens are digital natives, they know more, grow up faster and have more money than ever.

And don’t think that for a second I’m here to knock today’s high school students.

Heck no. I wish I had everything today’s teens have access to. New technology, new opportunities to learn, make music, play sports – it’s mind-boggling all the opportunities teens have today and I look forward to seeing my grandson grow up in the twenty-first century.

But along with those opportunities comes the opportunity to do more damage.

A couple of examples:

Last week’s story on the use of Xanax at the high school was the tip of the iceberg. The opioid crisis in our country is real and it is here in Southern Boone. “Yeah, but really,” you could say, “this was just kids experimenting – nobody died or anything.”

You could say that, but what will you say when somebody does die? High school students have died in Ohio, Kentucky, Maryland and in Missouri. And that’s just a few states. I wonder if this episode at Southern Boone has a few more parents talking to their teenagers? I hope so.

David Weber did die. He was riding his bike on an Illinois road about an hour east of St. Louis in a small town, much like Ashland. Weber, 63, was an outdoorsman who liked to fish, bow hunt and ride his bike. A little after 5:15 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 7, he was riding on the far right hand side of the road when he was hit by a 16-year old driver of a Ford F-150 pickup. The driver continued for nearly a mile before she came to a stop.

Weber was taken to the local hospital where he died of massive injuries. The driver was ticketed for failure to reduce speed to avoid a crash, improper passing of a bicycle and illegal cell phone usage.

Yep. Cell phone.

I am certain that there are those reading this column who will try to tell me that bicycles take a certain risk and probably shouldn’t be on the roads.

Tell that to David Weber’s wife and family.

Then go tell them that again on Christmas Eve – when they won’t have David around to celebrate Christmas.

I cannot imagine the hell that teenager is going through, knowing she took the life of another person because she was paying more attention to her cell phone than she was her driving.

I’m not quite sure why a judge or law enforcement would ever again grant her a driver’s license, but I’m sure they will. I’m looking forward to the day when we have an app or device in a car which makes a phone inoperable while the automobile is in gear.

Maybe one of today’s high school students will be the person to invent and popularize such a life-saving tool.

I think teens are pretty much the same basic people they have always been and there has been no better time in history to be a teenager than right now.

But due to all of the advances in medicine, technology and consumer goods and services, there are just as many ways to turn those opportunities into deadly tragedies than ever before.