Graduation advice for parents

This story was published on June 03, 2004 on Page B1 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News

Over the next couple of weeks, high school seniors across Maine will listen patiently as commencement speakers fill their heads with sage counsel about what the future might bring.

They’ll be advised to hold firm to their dreams, to pursue their passions, to challenge outmoded convention, and to evolve into the solid citizens and community leaders that have always been the backbone of America. Fine advice, even if those lofty thoughts probably will be largely forgotten by the time the mortarboards go flying in a rush of unbridled liberation. So at the risk of sounding like a party-pooper, allow me to throw out a few other thoughts that most teens will likely dismiss as well, invincible as they are, but which their parents would do well to bear in mind. Sobering facts, if you will, for this most intoxicating period in a teen’s life.

Summer, the great escape, also happens to be the most dangerous season for the nation’s young drivers. Every week or so in Maine, one carefree teen will not make it home from the joy ride alive, and 60 others will be injured in car accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Board, car crashes are the leading cause of death among 15- to 20-year-olds. In Maine, drivers aged 15 to 24 make up 12 percent of the motoring population but account for a third of all crashes. June and July, the national statistics remind us, are the deadliest months of all.

No surprise there. For teens about to graduate, this is indeed a season of celebration. And no sooner have parents breathed a sigh of relief that the prom circuit went off without incident when along comes the next round of all-night parties and high-spirited good times that kicks off as soon as graduation exercises end. For parents, these can be uneasy times, indeed.

A few years back, a woman called me to pass along some cautionary commencement advice that made as much sense as any words uttered from a podium. Shortly before her daughter was to graduate, the mother recalled that old public-service announcement she’d heard every night when she was a teen: “It’s 11 o’clock. Do you know where your children are?” The mother’s experience suggested that many parents did not know where their children were, and that the prime accident season might be a good time to find out.

She made a good point, of course. No matter how much parents would rather not dwell on the potential for tragedy that arises each year at this time, they do have a responsibility to know what their kids will be up to and with whom. But most will merely express their concerns to their fledgling adults, trust that they heed the cautions as they party the night away, and then pray for their safe return.

This mother urged that parents add one more step to the process, however – make a simple phone call to find out something about the parties their kids will attend and where they’ll be spending the night. If that made her appear overprotective to other parents, she said, so be it. She had every intention of letting go, just as soon as her kid went off to college in the fall. In the meantime, she said, one of the most important parental responsibilities she had left was to help her daughter make it unharmed through the high-risk fun times ahead. It wasn’t a matter of trust, she said, but of safety.

So, proud parents of the Class of ’04, will you know where your children are when the gowns are shed and the parties gear up? Perhaps you should. After all, the information might just allow you to get some sleep.

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