Earlier this month, our small island community was stunned to learn that an 18-year-old from a neighboring town had died in a high-speed car crash while heading to high school.
Like other parents, I’m left not only with profound empathy for the family and friends that the boy, Tyler, left behind, but also with a harsh reminder of how truly powerless we are in protecting the creatures that we nurture and love.
We take prenatal vitamins and cut out coffee and alcohol while pregnant. We breastfeed for as long as possible, and avoid foods that could agitate our infants.
We plug up outlets, lock up potential poisons and gate stairways, and carefully screen caregivers and playmates.
We teach our children to avoid strangers, look both ways before crossing streets and wear helmets when biking, skating and snowboarding.
We lecture about bullying, violent video games and internet usage; and discuss drinking, drugs, communicable diseases, abstinence and, perhaps, safe sex.
Some parents cocoon their children as much as possible, homeschooling, avoiding babysitters and never spending nights away. Some believe we just need to trust in God’s will or plans; others say that fate controls our destiny. But the botom line is, no one really, truly, can guarantee their kids’ safety.
When a child is at a friend’s house or school, we trust that he or she will behave and be supervised, but can we ever be sure that others adults will hide prescription medicine, lock doors, check seatbelts and drive safe and sober?
When our own kids start driving, are we positive that they’ll stay alert and obey laws when out of view? We can’t control peer pressure, which is an undeniable force among teens. In fact, a recent study at Temple University revealed that teenagers will engage in riskier driving behavior, such as racing through yellow lights, when their friends are with them or nearby.
We can’t control the weather, which can create unsafe driving conditions. How many young drivers were stranded or injured in this month’s Midwest blizzards? Here in the Northwest, a friends’ son recently headed off to ski with five friends, hit a patch of black ice on the freeeway and skidded into a semi-truck. If the car hadn’t been a Suburban, the teens wouldn’t have walked away, as they did, completely unscathed.
We can’t control other drivers, who might be texting, lost in thought, singing falsetto to an old Queen song, drifting into sleep or under the influence. What would prevent an inattentive or distracted driver from breezing through a stop sign at a suburban intersection, T-boning an unsuspecting SUV and causing it to roll down an incline (fortunately seatbelts and side airbags protected my family when this happened two years ago).
We can only control what is within our own power, and reduce the odds of disaster by taking precautions. We can set up safeguards, teach lessons, repeat instructions and demand compliance. We can model safe behavior (remembering our own seat belts and helmets, never drinking or texting while driving), talk about good choices, remind kids of our expectations, and above all, love and cherish them every day. I’m sure that’s what Tyler’s parents did.
So, should be live in fear and create bubbles around our families?
Our kids need and deserve a certain degree of freedom with their friends. We parents should enjoy time away on date nights, couples’ weekends and girlfriend getaways. Yes, something terrible could happen to us or the kids while we’re apart, but it could just as easily happen when we’re in the same city.
We need to continue moving forward, embracing life while protecting our families as best as we can. No one can predict how much time we’ll have together. I choose to love and lecture, then let go and live.
-Linda Williams Rorem, 14 Feb. 2011