WORCESTER, MAParents and child advocates across the nation are voicing concerns about the dramatic increase in "hanging out" among American adolescents.
"It's a common refrain among today's teens," said Mark DuFresne, executive director of Good Clean Fun LLC, a Worcester-based watchdog organization that monitors teen leisure activities. "If you ask them what they've been doing on any given day, invariably the response will be 'hanging out.' While it may seem harmless, even cool, the sad truth is that hanging out distracts our children from more important goals, such as buckling down or shaping up."
DuFresne said data compiled by his organization shows that "hanging," as it is known among the most dedicated out-hangers, is a gateway activity that often leads to other, more intense activities, such as "goofing off," "kicking back," or even "screwing around."
"Today, it's hanging out," DuFresne said. "Tomorrow, it could be messing around, or even hooking up. That's the problem: You never know where it's going to go."
One characteristic of hanging out that particularly alarms parents is that it can take place anywhere, even in such otherwise benign locations as convenience-store parking lots, pizza parlors, or right under parents' own roofs.
While teens' public out-hanging often causes mild consternation among adult onlookers, the most intense form of the popular recreational activity occurs in subterranean locales. It is in these covert locations, called "hangouts," that hang-related deeds most often transpire.
"When we remodeled the basement, it was just to install a new washer and dryer and create a place for our old sleeper sofa and TV," said Arlene Verbitski, a Worcester-area mother of two teenage sons. "You know, like a room for rumpus-oriented play. I never intended it for use as a den of hanging out. I don't know what they're doing down there. Are they flipping out? Getting down? For all I know, they could be getting over, stylin' along, or jamming away. I'm scared."
According to DuFresne, "cool" youths have harnessed today's powerful communications technology, enabling them to schedule hanging meetings from virtually any location. Teens are now able to arrange a "hang time" with their accomplices via mobile telephones, pagers, or even computerized written correspondence. Hanging out, with-hanging and hang-sliding need not even involve actual face-to-face contact, with the advent of message-boarding and chatting-rooms.
"There's no doubt about it: Teens are hanging out," said San Pedro, CA, father of three Eugenio Mendez, pointing to the door of his basement. "I don't like what I'm hearing down there. Sure, when I was a kid, we would hang around, but that was totally different. At least we were 'around.' We were never 'out.'"
"Before too long, they're going to be grooving up," Mendez added.
Many adults have raised the concern that, as hanging out gains popularity among teens, it will be taken up by impressionable pre-teens.
"My daughter is only 12, and she and her friends are already 'hanging the o,' as she refers to it," Denver homemaker Mindy Carver said. "But for all I know, she's looping over and freaking about. She sees older kids doing it, and that's what she's going to do."
While there have been no reported incidents of hanging-out-related fatalities, DuFresne advised against complacency, accusing indifferent parents of "not seeing the bigger picture."
"How much longer will teens be content with just hanging out?" DuFresne said. "The rate at which they mature today, they are at a severe risk for rolling down, rocking high, shaking off, or tripping and slipping over and underneath. Maybe even leaking through."
Added DuFresne: "The sooner we nip this in the bud, the sooner our youth can straighten tight and bust forward."