Last week John Svec, a 16-year-old student at W. T. Woodson High School, was buried. He was killed by a car as he walked along a highway; the driver was first charged with driving while intoxicated, now changed to involuntary manslaughter. As I read the news accounts of John's death and felt the aftershocks in this community, I shared both the grief of his friends and family and the feeling of outrage that another child had died in a meaningless, violent moment that might have been prevented. In her grief, his mother begged for something good to come of his death, "something worthy of John." That is why I am writing this.
John's friends at Woodson reacted with sensitivity and insight to the issues raised by the tragedy. They recognized that the social acceptance of teen drinking was something that had to be counteracted, and they began forming groups such as FADD (Football Players Against Drunk Driving) to take a personal stand.
In the next week, thousands of area young people will be slipping behind the wheels of family cars to celebrate the annual rituals of prom, graduation and the end of the school year. Both McKinley High and Walter Johnson High have proms on Friday. The seniors at Suitland High will graduate June 7. All these occasions for celebration could involve drinking, smoking dope and driving cars, unless something is done.
Every parent needs to stop right now, confront the issue and make some difficult choices. Consider these facts:
* Teen-age drinking is illegal.
* Drug use is illegal at any age.
* Drunk driving is the leading cause of death among Americans age 16 to 24.
In 1982, an estimated 2,350 teen-age drivers were in fatal accidents involving drunk driving in this country.
While statistics are always shocking, nothing brings home the tragedy of teen-age drinking and driving more keenly than individual incidents. We've all known or read about kids who left home in their tuxedos and prom gowns and died in a wreck after the dance.
I know you must share my concern about teen-agers drinking illegally--sometimes with parental knowledge and consent. And drinking mixed with other drugs is even more lethal. Teen-age drinking and driving is not just a question of illegality. It's a question of survival.
Parents and teachers and teenagers themselves can do something about this by taking responsibility.
Parents cannot condone "a few beers," and teen-agers have to recognize that alcohol can be a deadly weapon, especially when combined with driving.
For short-term results, parents should get together and talk to each other. More than 50 percent of high school seniors claim that when they drink it is usually at parties. This week, parents can make sure that parties given in their homes are well supervised and ensure that kids know their rules: NO DRINKING! and NO DRUGS! Parents should be firm on the issue of no liquor or drugs at parties. Some parents are even organizing parent-driven shuttles to proms and parties.
Teachers and students can call on the resources of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and SADD (Students Against Drunk Driving), a peer-run program now organized in almost every state.
Both parents and teens can organize alternate activities. I have met a number of young people across the country involved in creating a positive kind of peer pressure to turn down alcohol and other drugs. This is so important. We need to encourage teen-agers not to use any drugs--including alcohol. Teens ought to be made very aware of the consequences of injuring others while driving under the influence of liquor or other drugs. And there should be as many re- minders as possible that drinking and drugs are not necessary during this very social season.
Young people in this country should know that they don't need to drink or smoke marijuana to have fun. Recently a 19-year-old from Northern Virginia told a young people's conference on drunk driving of his personal tragedy. The young man had drunk too much champagne on New Year's Eve of his senior year. He was at fault in the death of another young driver in a head- on auto collision. The agony that he, his family and friends suffered "wasn't worth being the coolest guy in Fairfax High," he said.
Teachers can raise the awareness of drugs and drunk driving through serious class discussions of how to reverse peer pres- sure. The student anti-drunk-driving groups such as SADD and FADD are important and can take the lead in changing the climate.
We know young people come under enormous pressure to drink and use drugs at a very young age. The recent Weekly Reader Study indicates that kids as young as 9 feel pressure to drink and take drugs. Statistics show that 70 percent of high school stu- dents feel pressure from other kids to try marijuana or other drugs. And almost 80 percent report pressure from other kids to drink.
As parents, we must create conditions to eliminate peer pressure for kids to drink and use drugs. And, if we don't start now, hundreds of needless deaths will occur again this weekend.
We simply must grant John Svec's mother's wish. We must make John Svec's death worthy of his life