The early summer reminds me of death - the late sunsets, warm humidity, cars decorated with school colors indicating that the passengers had just graduated, memorial services. Growing up in a small town in the fabled Pine Barrens of South Jersey, every year we lost a student. And it always seemed to be at the end of the school year. All over my school district, there were benches and auditoriums and baseball fields named after young students as memorials. The Chipper Mott Auditorium. The Matthew Hammell Baseball Field. Even the graduation ceremony had a tribute to those we lost each year, like they do at the Grammys. We were an isolated town miles away from the next districts to our north and south. To our west was 1 million acres of dense pine forest which made the perfect playground for parties. At a very young age, my friends and I became familiar with funerals. The first I attended was in 4th grade. My father was the emergency room physician whose heart sank in his chest when he saw my young friend brought in by ambulance after he'd been hit by a car playing football in the street. One of the worst jobs a physician has is delivering news of unexpected death to a patient's family. My dad not only had to tell a young mother she had just lost her son, but he also had to tell his own daughter that she lost her friend. I still remember the hug he gave me when he came home that night. The next was in high school, a young man named Matt who was hit by a drunk driver while roller blading on Route 9. He was in my spanish class and I considered him a friend. The list goes on and on. Car accidents. Drug overdoses. Alcohol poisoning. Drownings. Hangings. Pneumonia. My friends, two boys in one family, two years apart. Seizures. Drunk driving. Gun shots. Suicide. Train accidents. On and on and on.
The 100 Deadliest Days of Summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, is the time period which teens tend to engage in high risk behaviors. This is especially true for graduating seniors who are going off to college. The freedom of summer lends itself to trying new things. No longer under the watchful eye of high school and yet to be confined by the responsibilities of college, new graduates are in a period of limbo. They have just become adults and feel like they can take on the world, live it up while they are young and make memories with friends they might never see again. Of course, this leads to fewer kids wearing seatbelts, increased experimentation with drugs and alcohol and risky sexual behaviors. Just as kids have the Superman Complex, the It-Wont-Happen-To-Me attitude, parents may take on the attitude that kids will be kids. They want prom, graduation and college sendoffs to be memorable. And hey, we survived, right? Parents are equally excited about the milestones in their children's lives, but good intentions may end up seeming like they support or condone risky behavior. Turning a blind eye equals permission in the eyes of a teenager with a little taste of freedom. However, providing the house and the drugs or alcohol is a criminal offense. The laws are state specific but here is an example of the verbage from NY State Law as an example.
N.Y. General Obligations Law §11-1001. Any person who shall be injured in person, property, means of support or otherwise, by reason of the intoxication or impairment of ability of any person under the age of 21 years, whether resulting in his death or not, shall have a right of action to recover actual damages against any person who knowingly causes such intoxication or impairment of ability by unlawfully furnishing to or unlawfully assisting in procuring alcoholic beverages for such person with knowledge or reasonable cause to believe that such person was under the age of 21 years.2. In case of the death of either party, the action or right of action established by the provisions of this section shall survive to or against his or her executor or administrator, and the amount so recovered by either a husband, wife or child shall be his or her sole and separate property. Many schools and communities are jumping on the safety bandwagon by creating events intended to de-emphasize pre- and post-prom and graduation partying. They are also making an effort to inform parents about these relatively new social hosting laws. But, you can still be cool parents without approving of or serving alcohol with these fun Prom or Graduation ideas.
- Host a pre-event Spa Day in the morning or afternoon before your child's big event. Primp and pamper the girls and the guys. Maybe even consider getting a stylist and photographer.
- Set up a runway or photo booth for pre-event pictures. Parents make great paparazzi. Serve a spread of hors d'oeuvres, snacks and alcohol-free beverages.
- Throw a theme party like a luau or hoedown complete with decorations, food, music and of course photo ops.
- Plan a bonfire or camp-out in your backyard as a safe alternative to post-event parties.
and perhaps, most importantly...
- Have a conversation with your kids about responsibility, trust and the law. Make a pact with them. Involve their friends. The US Department of Health and Human Services has some great resources and Conversation Tools to help get your started.
Everywhere I go in Chapel Hill, a vibrant college town, I meet students from pre-school to grad school. It seems that many will stay here after graduation any many will return here to live and raise their families after college. These kids will become our teachers, lawyers, electricians, police officers and town supervisors. They will run our restaurants, service our boats, bandage our boo-boos. They are the future of this thriving community. Our local schools and healthcare organization are delighted to show our students how much we appreciate their contributions to our wonderful community. We want our children to know that it is our honor, privilege and duty to provide them with a safe and healthy environment; one to which they will want to return to raise their kids. June will always remind me of memorial services. But this year, I encourage you to create a new kind of tradition - safely looking forward to our future with all the hope and excitement of an 18-year old.
To the Class of 2018, I wish you love and luck as you take your next steps forward. Wherever your travels may take you, I hope you lead healthy lives, make smart choices and always remember from where you came!