When I was assigned report on a young man speaking at Marion High School last week, I knew it was about an alcohol-related accident, but I assumed it involved drinking and driving.
I was half right.
The young man, Joe White, now in his early 20s, made the decision to drink, then jumped out of a moving car going 35 mph while his “friends” videotaped the tragedy.
Joe’s decision changed his life forever. The consequences of his choice left him paralyzed on the right side, coping with speech problems and looking forward to more surgeries.
That was more than five years ago, but what happened that night also affected everyone who knows and loves him.
Like Joe’s parents, I can remember many sleepless nights worrying whether my children would come home safely from a Friday or Saturday night outing.
Unlike Joe’s parents, Randy and I never had to experience a parent’s worst nightmare—the call that one of our children had been involved in a life-altering, alcohol-related incident.
That’s not to say my children didn’t make bad decisions. But the outcome of their actions wasn’t the same as what happened to Joe.
Hearing his story simply reinforces my resolve to fight for our children’s welfare when it comes to underage drinking.
Once someone is of legal age, they know, or at least should know, the consequences of excessive drinking.
If someone still chooses to drink and drive, or engage in some other dangerous activity after age 21, then sadly that person becomes a volunteer in his or her own fate and all the consequences that go with it.
I have nothing against social drinking. Alcohol is a way for many people to unwind. Even when someone has too much to drink, it’s OK—as long as they are of legal age to drink and act responsibly by having a designated driver or someone watching out for them.
But what can we do to protect our teenage children from the throes of alcohol and other mind-altering substances?
Wilma Mueller, a Marion County Sheriff’s deputy, was one of the experts attending the evening session of Joe’s talk.
Here is what she had to say:
• Kids think they are ‘invincible.” We know they are not. It is our responsibility to educate them on the dangers of underage drinking as well as drinking and driving. Even if someone’s child is “just a passenger,” they need to know it is OK to tell their friend, “I won’t ride with you.”
• Good kids, bad kids—knock off the labels. All kids make poorer choices when under the influence of alcohol and other substances. It is our responsibility to set good examples and not have “one for the road.”
• Social hosting. Some adults who allow underage drinking at their homes or other property do so because “the kids will drink anyway, so this way I can keep an eye on them.” Social hosting is a bad idea that places the host/hostess at risk for being liable if anyone is hurt or dies. It’s also a crime.
• Help is available. Adults or children need to know help is available through many sources. Families and Communities Together has a resource booklet available for the asking. This booklet includes a list of resources in Marion County for all types of assistance.
• Report it to the authorities. If someone becomes aware of underage drinking, report it. Call the sheriff’s office at 620-381-2144; you can report it anonymously. Parents and others can also call 866-MUST B 21 or 866-687-8221.
In an article about the development of a teenager’s brain, I was not surprised to learn that more than any other age group, adolescents are at risk for substance abuse.
It’s not just that teenagers are less-experienced than adults; they are still undergoing an important and challenging developmental stage, which makes them prone to errors of judgment.
Now a young man, Joe White admits he didn’t heed the warnings because he had already been drinking without consequence many times.
“I was invincible,” he said.
Parenting is one of the hardest, but most rewarding jobs anyone can have and our children need us.
At our house, Randy and I were always spoilsports when it came to our children and their friends having “fun.”
For any parent with teenage children who is reading this article, one rule that worked well for us was to require a 24-hour notice if they wanted to spend the night at a friend’s house.
Sounds simple enough, but when kids get together and want to “experiment,” they don’t plan ahead.
I can remember many times getting a call from one of our children, begging me to make an exception to this rule just one time. But we didn’t back down.
Our children are our most precious commodity and we need to do whatever it takes to “limit” them from making fatal or near-fatal decisions involving alcohol and other drugs.
By talking with one another as parents, friends, church members or with police, we can share our experiences, strengths and hopes.
No one needs to feel he or she is alone when it comes to raising a child.