Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Drinking Problem: Takeimi Rao's Sudden Death

Teenagers drink. This is not new. Teens drank when I was in high school. They drank when my parents were in high school. Teens were drinking back when my grandparents were in high school. The prevalence of drinking through the years does not negate the concerns or dangers of underage drinking. Less than a week ago, underage drinking claimed the life of Takeimi Rao, a fourteen year old going into high school this coming school year. Rao was a popular student with good grades and loving, involved parents. That wasn't enough. She stilled died after poisoning herself at her own slumber party. Her friends found her the next morning in a pool of her own vomit and now it's a national news story.

There is a stigma attached to underage drinking. It can be assumed that the drinking problem is an issue for "bad kids" from uncaring families. Some think the problem is teens at parties and have no problem with providing their children with alcohol in a "safe" environment. Rao was at her own home with alcohol she had slipped up to her room. She was safe in her own room. She still died.

Rao is now a statistic. She is one of the estimated 5,000 underage drinkers who will die this year. Her parents probably never imagined this was a possibility this soon in her life. At fourteen, her life is over. She will never experience high school. Prom. College. A career. A family of her own. Middle age. Retirement. Old age. None of it. She was dead before even obtaining her driver's license.

Drinking is one of the areas schools try to cover. Not all parents are missing, overworked or uninterested, but we still have to pretend like they are. It's a delicate balance to walk the line between academic education and life education. It's not one we always do perfectly, but we try. The real way to work this is for teachers and parents to work together so we don't have to worry about where a parent's responsibility ends and a teacher's begins.

Fourteen is clearly not to young to talk to your children about alcohol safety. I don't know where the magic age to have this conversation with your child is. Every kid is different and experiences problems in their own time. The best advice I can give is to talk openly and frequently with your children. Your child's teachers will try to do the same. However, most teachers in high school have around 100 students throughout the day. It's best for us to work together to make sure every child is safe.

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