During a Simpson’s episode where Homer too his kids to Hullaballooza (a music festival where Homer eventually would get a job getting cannonballs shot into his belly), Bart and Lisa were listening to the Smashing Pumpkins (“Hi, I’m Billy Corgan. Smashing Pumpkins.” Homer’s response: “I’m Homer Simpson. Smiling politely.” Genius.) and then this exchange took place:

Lisa: It may be bleak, but this music is really getting to the crowd.
Bart: Ah, making teenagers depressed is like shooting fish in a barrel.

Since much of my life was spent working with teenagers I made it a point to avoid manipulating their emotions. I knew a lot of colleagues that made a living off it, too. You could put on bleak music, darken a room, discuss the dark side of life, and pretty much have them weeping. Or, you could simply talk about all the things they should feel guilty about, they would, and then they’d walk down aisles in droves…confessing all sorts of stuff. So, I felt like there was something unethical about that approach. I’m not against their expression of emotion, mind you. Simply against the manipulation and misuse OF it.

With this as my background, and very aware of it, the pierced & tattooed Kristen sent me an article she found in the San Francisco Chronicle. Here’s the gist of it:

Oceanside High School, San Diego.
Highway Patrol officers go from classroom to classroom and announce that several classmates had been killed in car wrecks over the weekend.
The students exhibited the genuine emotion you’d expect teenagers to express.

Except for one thing:


It was all part of a school district sponsored exercise to highlight the dangers of drinking and driving. See, graduation was afoot. Parties were being planned. And GROWN UPS…

…that’s right: GROWN UPS…

…thought the best way to highlight the reality was to put various popular students in hotel rooms for the weekend, have them cut off contact with friends and all, and then tell classmates that they’d died in alcohol related accidents.


…the kids are right here! They’re okay! See?! Now…don’t drink and drive, kids. It’s a dangerous world out there, so when you’re having graduation parties, be responsible, okay?!

And, then this freaking genius, a guidance counselor at the school, Lori Taubor, gives us this little bit of gold, “They were traumatized, but we wanted them to be traumatized. That’s how they get the message.”

Well, honey, the dictionary defines a trauma as “b: a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury.” So, if I’m hearing you correctly, Lori, that students will learn if they are given severe mental stress to their emotions?

Lori, your mom has cancer. Better eat right. Oh, wait…just kidding.
Lori, your home has been foreclosed on and you’re being evicted. You should manage your money better. Oh, wait…just kidding.
Lori, your husband was killed in a car accident. Better pay closer attention to your marriage. Oh, wait…just kidding.
Lori, your daughter was abducted at the park by a stranger. Better give lessons on how to avoid strangers. Oh, wait…just kidding.

Learning any lessons, Lori?
Trauma teaching you anything, Lori?
Get the messages, Lori?

Interestingly, the school board is behind this activity…even though at one point they thought there’d been a terrible coincidence. See, one of the siblings of a kid who was in on it text messaged some friends to add to the authenticity of the event. Administrators didn’t count on that as part of the equation, and wondered if something really happened to that particular kid.

Whew. Good thing THAT didn’t happen, isn’t it?

Then, “Wendy Reynolds, a former prosecutor who spoke at El Camino High about her experience being orphaned by a drunken driver, said most students would benefit.

“I think we save lives if one kid makes a better choice every time he gets in a car,” she said.

Really. So the bang for the buck is worth it if one kid makes a better choice?

Trauma of who knows how many is well worth it if ONE kid chooses not to drink and drive?

But, since I don’t want to tear-down your terrific idea about how to help students, I’ll offer a solution of my own:

Use your e-mail list to send an e-mail to parents. In that e-mail, say something like, “Parents, since graduation is upon us and since graduations have been happening students have been throwing parties. Since students have been having parties, historically some have made unwise choices regarding drinking and driving. Since we know that even good kids make poor choices sometimes, please take some time to discuss your expectations of your child before, during and after the graduation ceremony. Thank you. P.S. Take this time to evaluate your own choices in this arena. More is caught than taught!” Maybe even put a little smiley face emoticon after that to lighten the mood.

Hey…if that doesn’t seem like enough…feel free to stage one of those mock accident scenes with a car in front of the school and a fake car wreck scene where the CareFlight helicopter comes in. Students know that is a STAGED event and still get a nice little visual message.

But, I think if you’d treat teenagers like adults, raise the bar of expectation and communicate with them…well…

…maybe just one kid will make a wiser choice than they would’ve before.

Without trauma. Which is like shooting fish in a barrel, right?

You can read the article here.

You can read an editorial about it here.