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It's never too early to start making sensible decisions in life

December 02, 2007|By TIM ROWLAND

The details concerning the murder of Washington Redskins Pro Bowl safety Sean Taylor are still murky, but the lessons are bitingly clear.

As of this writing, police are characterizing the incident as a burglary gone bad and suggesting there's a chance that this was just a random, violent act.

Maybe so. But it seems to me that random burglars want to avoid confrontation. Random burglars do not go bursting into people's bedrooms.

By all accounts, the once-troubled Taylor had turned his life around, changed by maturity and the birth of his child. But it seems at least plausible that he was paid a visit by his past.

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The problem was, as Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon wrote, even though Taylor was changing his life, the hoods he once associated with were not changing theirs.

Aging baby boomers like to say that 60 is the new 40. Because of changes in society, health habits and medicine, they are in effect younger than the sands of time would suggest.

So maybe it's time to realize that 12 is the new 21.

With both parents working, kids are on their own more and more. In single-parent homes, they have to grow up faster and take responsibilities at a younger age. As parents become busier, kids become more independent. They have more forms of communication than ever, more access via the Web to lifestyles that would otherwise not be encountered until adulthood.

Yes, we would like to change this. We'd like to end divorce, return to the days when parents had more time at home and see our children happily playing catch in the backyard with the neighbor's kids.

But those times have passed, and I don't see us getting them back. So we have to go to another plan.

And if you're a teenager reading this, that means a lot of the solution is going to fall on you.

That means thinking about things you really shouldn't have to think about until later in life. It means that you can't always live for the moment. It means that you need to understand that a choice you make today, sad to say, can trigger a lifetime of consequences.

If you're 14, that's a lot to lay at your feet, I know.

But I also know that kids age 10 to 18 are capable of considerable thought and a surprising degree of understanding.

We've all seen how sheepish a dog looks when he's done something wrong ? how can it be then that we somehow believe that an animal is capable of understanding right from wrong, but kids somehow are not? That "youthful indiscretion" is somehow an excuse for tossing away an opportunity at a good life?

Teens all want to be treated like adults. Fine. So here are the rules.

No pressure here, kiddo, but basically everything you do now will have an exponential effect on your future life. You are not too young to think about your habits and you are not too young to understand that habits convey into adulthood.

The big difference is that habits are easily formed or not formed as a kid. As an adult, these habits become petrified and exceedingly difficult to modify.

When I was young, I never picked up my room. That's made organization a huge challenge for me even to this day. When I was 18 and 19 I drank way too much. That choice came back to bite me with a vengeance in later life.

Conversely, when I was a teen I exercised and seldom ate junk food. So I'm as healthy and in nearly as good a shape today as I was 20 years ago. When I was a teen, I read a newspaper every day and went through a library worth of books. And this was key in landing me a job as a newspaper col ... OK, bad example, but for most people it works out.

Childhood is a time to be carefree and happy. I don't begrudge you your video games, text messaging and Facebook. By all means, enjoy them while you can. But in between rounds of Halo, just take a moment to think about what it is that you want when you're 30 or 40 ? money, a snappy car, a nice home, a with-it husband or wife, a college degree, good health and a sense of spirit and soul that is well-grounded and brings you happiness and peace.

If you choose today to associate with drug users or thugs, kiss that good-bye. If you eat poorly, get ready for a lifetime of doctor visits, pain and medication. If you have a child as a teen, enjoy your life of poverty. If you have no use for books, the chances are excellent that your job in life will be a poor-paying bore.

By way of example, a recent national study suggests that there is a magic key to success: Reading. It's a consistent way to the top, all across the board. And because fewer and fewer people your age are reading, your chances of success greatly increase if you get in the simple habit of picking up a paper, magazine or book.

These are simple choices and habits you can fashion now and they reap a lifetime of benefits. But the reverse is also true.

Every so often you hear a story about a person who "has really turned his life around." A dude who was on the streets, into drugs, violence and crime, but snapped out of it and worked his way into a good job, family and life.

Good for him. But do you realize how rare these stories are? They are so rare that they make the news. Those aren't odds you want to be playing with. Being reckless today, with the idea that you can get always your act together later, doesn't work.

Sean Taylor may indeed have been turning his life around, and for that he leaves this world a hero. But the pity, the tragedy, is that by the tender age of 24, it was already too late.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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