Five years after a drunk and drugged driver killed my 16-year-old daughter, I went to work in the school system where she’d been a student.
I was a college advisor, but as a volunteer victim advocate for MADD, my two worlds often dovetailed. Talking to students about their futures provided an opportunity to share my daughter’s story.
Working with teens was incredibly important to me, not only because my daughter was one when she died, so was the person who killed her. The 17-year-old girl who spent an afternoon drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana before getting behind the wheel went to prison for six years for manslaughter.
By 2011, I was a program specialist for MADD, going into schools to tell my daughter’s story and others like it. I often asked students whether I could keep them safe. Their answer, of course, was always no. They were right. But what I could do – and what you can do for the teenager in your life – is give them the tools and knowledge to make good decisions.
Young people never think alcohol or drugs will affect them. Until it does. Or until it happens to one of their friends.
This October, as part of MADD’s Power of You(th)® program, we’re encouraging teens to know the facts, and then decide to refrain from underage drinking and drug use. With all the noise out there, it can be hard to know what’s true. At MADD, we want to educate both youth and parents about the truth around alcohol, marijuana and the teen body.
A teen booklet available at powerofyouth.com can help empower teens to make smart, healthy choices and to resist peer pressure by reading stories of real teens who’ve experienced real consequences.
The facts are these: Not every teen is doing it. In fact, most aren’t. But for those who do, underage alcohol and drug use can have impacts both immediate and long-term.
A teen’s brain is developing just as their body is changing and maturing. That means it is more easily damaged by alcohol. Some of that damage can last a lifetime.
We also know that young people who begin drinking at 15 are six times more likely to become alcohol dependent or even abuse alcohol later in life.
About 4,300 youth each year die each year from alcohol use – more than all illegal drugs combined. Two out of three underage drinking deaths do not involve a vehicle.
I often asked the teens I spoke to if they were willing to take the risk. I knew I was speaking to kids who are wired to take risks. I knew it was a hard message to get across.
Parents even asked me why we bothered if they weren’t going to listen.
My answer: If anyone should try, it should be me.
I saw an 18-year-old go to prison. I saw my 16-year-old daughter’s life ended.
So I will.