Yes, your student is smart but…

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category icon Columns, Opinion
Margaret Svilar

Can they make good decisions? I often wonder about this because as I am writing this, my senior is at a presentation at his high school about the perils of alcohol and drug use while driving.

I hope it’s kind of a “Scared Straight” presentation, complete with a car that has been crashed to an unrecognizable pulp, simulated blood and guts, EMT and firefighters giving sobering facts, and hopefully a young adult giving a horrific testimony about their own experience. I really hope that the term “smart decisions” is floating in his mind right now. Not just now, but for some time to come. Because, this is a presentation I did not have in high school.

This is the time of year where the foremost thing on the minds of all high school seniors throughout the country is: Graduation. As a rite of passage, graduation night is unequaled in the eyes of youth. It is a night to be proud, to celebrate past achievements, and to look forward to the future. Unfortunately, some graduating seniors and teenagers feel the best way to celebrate is to use alcohol and drugs. Statistics have proven that nationally, more young people between the ages of 16 and 20 are injured or killed between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. in May and June than during any other time of the year.

These statistics from Mothers Against Drunk Driving are endless and staggering, and here are a couple that you may not be aware of:

1) During a typical weekend, one teenager dies each hour in a car crash. And nearly 50 percent of those crashes are alcohol or drug related.

2) A nationwide survey polled 2.6 million teenagers and they did not know that a person can die from an alcohol overdose. I wish that during my high school graduation, 30 some years ago in Minnesota, that my childhood friend, Lori S., would have seen this presentation. She was smart and on her way to a successful future, but Lori was killed on the night after graduation. She was a passenger in a car whose teen driver was drinking; hit a bridge barrier head-on at freeway speed. Lori was killed instantly and one of the first things I had to do as a newly graduated senior was to attend her funeral.

As of June 1, you can go down to your friendly neighborhood grocery or drug store and get almost any kind of liquor. Thanks to Initiative 1183, the sale of hard liquor is now privatized rather than being controlled by the state. Some people say that this has made the price more expensive and some even some say it is putting liquor in the hands of minors. Yes, Washington state law has stiff penalties for businesses not complying with procedures to verify identification. But, if minors really want to drink, they will get it one way or another. And any new alien-like security device on the liquor bottles will not deter that. That is where as parents and a community we have the responsibility to encourage our seniors and teens to make good decisions.

In the last two decades, a positive trend of “Senior Grad Night Parties” has evolved. Their focus is an alcohol-free/drug-free celebration for all graduating seniors. It brings the senior class together one last time to say goodbye, reminisce, and share excitement about their future. Most of these parties consist of several fun activities, lots of food, and it’s usually a “lock-in” event. It’s usually arranged by parent volunteers requiring much planning and fund-raising. Many schools even have scholarships available for seniors to defer the cost of tickets so that they may attend. I guess you could say attending a grad night party is one smart decision.

But the grad night party is just one night. One night. What are we going to do as parents regarding the other decisions they will face about nights to come? Most of what our teens learn in school about alcohol and drug use is more than was available to us parents when we attended high school. We have to hope what they have learned, along with our guidance, will help them make these smart decisions. Parents are the biggest influences in their child’s lives. We preach to our teens about making the right choices in relationships, eating right, what clothes to wear, handling of money, and generally how to be good humans. Believe me I am no saint, but talking with your graduate or teen now about using alcohol and drugs could help prevent a life changing mistake. It could help them save a friend’s life. It may also save their own.

There are so many more distractions in our society now. Cell phones and texting while driving are big safety problems also, and I’m sure more strict laws are just around the corner. But for now, I would like to believe that most graduating seniors have a natural capacity of joy and they don’t need alcohol to be exuberant so that they abandon themselves to celebration. Is that too much to hope for? It probably is. Yes, it is time to let go so they can start their journey in life. But in the meantime, I hope that the good choices and smart decisions they make now will help them have the great lives I want for them. I’m not sure where my friend Lori’s parents are now, but I am sure they would have wanted her to have a great life. She never did.

Camas resident Margaret Svilar is the co-chairwoman for Camas High School Class of 2012 Alcohol free/Drug free Senior Grad Night Party. She is also a mom, wife, and professional volunteer in Camas schools who can often be seen trying to embarrass her teenage boys.