Last month, highway patrol officers visited 20 classrooms at Oceanside, California's El Camino High School to deliver some horrific news: Several classmates had been killed in car wrecks over the weekend. Things quickly turned chaotic, with some students becoming hysterical and inconsolable. Their pain turned to fury a few hours later when they learned the "deaths" were part of a "scared straight" exercise to teach them the consequences of drinking and driving. Parents and students alike questioned the tactic.
I'll admit my first reaction was that this exercise taught kids nothing more than adults have no respect for their feelings, and that cops lie and are not to be trusted. Then I considered my own teen years — and those of my three oldest children — and my perspective quickly changed.
The fact is teens only seem to think about the consequences of their actions when someone they know dies — and even then their concern doesn't last that long. Four teens die in a car crash involving alcohol and two years later some of their younger classmates die under the influence. A teenager loses his life car surfing and three years later another young person dies on the same road, doing the same thing.
But what if teens receive a message like the one sent by the Oceanside Police Department every couple years? I'm all for such scare tactics if they make even one teenager think twice about doing something stupid behind the wheel of a car.
At the school assembly announcing the hoax, students reportedly held posters that read: "Death is real. Don't play with our emotions." I say "Death is real," and educators and law enforcers should do whatever it takes to get that message across to those young people who think dying happens to someone else. There's a vast difference between thinking a friend has "died" for a few hours versus having a friend who really is dead. In one the trauma is short lived, in the other the trauma is life long. If I had been at the assembly, I think my poster might have read: "Death is real, and don't you forget it."
— The full text of this blog is available at: www.officer.com/interactive/2008/07/18/death-is-real-and-dont-you-forget-it