Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Knowing (really) is Half the Battle…

I was going to blog about how I thought the Bush Administration needs a change in their posturing over Iraq (and North Korea, and Iran), especially in light of the newly announced cost (87 billion) just for the US to carry out the next year in Iraq.

But then, after reading the local news, I thought today I would entertain something a little closer to home. Closer to home, mostly because I, like many of us, have mini versions of adults running around that we dearly hope will actually someday make it to adulthood.

Last weekend, a gruesome early morning rural car accident (in Leduc) left four party going teenagers dead, while 5 others, were found scattered among truck fragments and across the ditch at the accident scene. Only one of the victims was wearing a seatbelt. Although tragic, these deaths are an unchangeable reality that no one can escape.

What has peaked my ire this morning is the debate that has arisen from the aftermath; misguided suggestions on how to prevent this type of incident, including “More police on the streets”; “higher fines”; “stronger penalties, like your license being taken away for three years”; “better laws”.

Well, anyone who has been a kid, or knows a kid, knows what the term fearless means. Kids are invincible, and rules are for breaking, no matter how tough they are. Teens don’t care because they can get away with it, pay a fine (if caught) and get on with it. And teens don’t grow out of it either – every time we chose not to put on our seatbelt, or flagrantly disregard the speed limit we are doing the same thing. It doesn’t mean much to us. Why?

We have to teach kids how to think, not what to think (hat tip to Barbara Colorosso). Don’t tell them to put on their seatbelts because it is the law, we all can find the fault in that logic. Tell them why. Show them that people get hurt, that people die. Show them pictures, accident scenes, get them into morgues even. Show them how seatbelts work, how cars are designed to protect the occupants within the core area of a vehicle. Giving them the real world reasons and knowledge as to why we wear our seatbelts will help them make a better informed choice when they get into a vehicle. Then, when they are putting on (or leaving off) their seatbelts, they atleast will know why they made their choice. And it really is their choice to make.

BUT some choices aren’t really for kids to make, which brings me to the next issue that has irked me. Why is everyone ok with a 100 mostly underage school kids drinking out at a party? One parent, who knew most of the crash victims and had a child attending the party, was quoted in the Edmonton Journal as saying “I know it’s not right for them to be drinking, but I’m also a realist and I know they’re going to do it… and yeah, it was stupid to have kids in the back of a truck. But they’re kids”.

Pardon me? I hope I am not the only parent to be insulted by this lack of responsibilty. Yes, they are kids. Kids have parents for a reason, to provide them with the skills and the judgment needed to make decisions and survive in this world, and to not throw them into potentially life threatening situations. Well, as a realist, I guess you can’t escape the fact that these kids are dead, and yet they needn’t be. The whole kids will be kids excuse sounds to me as a way of saying “it’s not our fault”. A parent who allows their child to ride home in the back of a pick up truck, from a party where everyone has been drinking, is as derelict as the kid who made the choice to get in. So you lose an hour of sleep going to pick them up – is the alternative worth it? And that’s not even addressing the drinking issue.

I remember as a child reading an empassioned "open letter" from an RCMP officer (my Dad gave it to me) who had just mopped up a similar road side disaster, and was petitioning parents to take a more active role in caring and knowing where their children were at night. He felt that parents (and the society) often blamed him for being “too hard” on the kids about drinking and driving, speeding, seatbelts and what not, and as such undermined the importance of enforcing vehicle safety in the minds of the kids involved. “Kids will be kids” he often heard people say. I actually found his letter published on the web, so I urge you to go read it. But I will leave you with the final words of his letter:

“… if you continue to regard alcohol abuse as just a part of growing up, then please keep your porch light on because some cold, rainy night, you will find me at your doorstep, staring at my feet with a message of death for you.”

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