Over the last several months I have grappled with my feelings over the tragedy concerning Jared Dejong. Living in the community of Ilderton, our daughters attended Medway High School and knew Jared. As a matter of fact, my middle daughter and Jared went to prom together. So, this local tragedy has come uncomfortably close to home.
After reading the heartbreaking news articles of yesterday’s court proceedings, I reflected on my own sense of angst and finally put my finger on the pulse of what was troubling me.
As a community, we have failed Jared Dejong.
There is no doubt that Jared made the decision to get behind the wheel of a car with his blood alcohol level beyond the legal limit. Jared also made the decision to drive recklessly, through the quiet streets of our beloved university, taking the life of an innocent young woman and devastating her family and friends beyond what I could ever imagine.
Jared made choices that have caused horrendous, far-reaching consequences.
We can all point our finger at Jared, but as it goes with finger pointing, there is always three pointing back. As a community we share some responsibility in this situation.
The sense of ‘normalcy’ around the youth-drinking-culture is alarming. Too often parents wink their eye as their teenagers (some of them three, four and five years younger than the legal drinking age) sneak alcohol from their liquor cabinets. The sentiment that ‘they’re just having fun’ or ‘it’s their rite of passage’ is far too common and leaves the concerned parents feeling powerless to make change against the tide of complacency.
And it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye……or buries a daughter….or sees their son go to prison.
The truth is, the risks associated with teenage and young adult drinking are serious. Alcohol affects our young people’s brain development, how they view themselves, their judgement and what coping strategies they develop. The mis-use of alcohol at an early age develops patterns into adulthood and often goes hand in hand with mental health problems such as depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety. Not surprisingly, alcohol is also a major factor in fatal automobile crashes.
Like so many in our little community, I am deeply saddened at the thought of the ongoing turmoil and heartbreak that the Dejong (and of course the Christidis) family will have to endure because of this regrettable tragedy. But being sad is not enough. As a community, shame on us if we don’t step it up. It’s our responsibility to talk openly with our young adults about their personal challenges, choices and coping strategies. We must empower them to go against the drinking-status-quo and be clear with them about our expectations for their behaviour, setting the example ourselves to be responsible with alcohol.