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‘I’m Afraid We’re Preaching to the Choir’

Parents of high-schoolers hope community will be realistic and open in dealing with teens driving.

Little has changed in the Solomon household. Teen driving safety is high on the list of concerns for Robyn Solomon, president of Churchill’s PTSA. However, with the number of teenage driving casualties in Montgomery County, Solomon remains constant in the way she deals with her children — “Because I’m one of those crazy mothers who is lecturing constantly,” Solomon said. “Now I get to lecture more people.”

Aida Middel, also a Churchill mother, maintains the same rules for her sons that she’s had since her oldest, now a college student, was first driving. “My kids have to come home and kiss me goodnight,” said Middel, who catches a whiff to see if any alcohol is on their breath. “I’d rather have them be alive and have them be annoyed with me.”

Since the death of Churchill student Sarkis “Sako” George Nazarian Jr. in a Travilah Road car accident on Nov. 12, the issue of teen driving has moved to the frontburner among Churchill parents. “I think kids themselves are finally getting a wakeup call,” Middel said. “The bottom line is that parents have to do more. The parents have to know where their kids are.”

A PTSA meeting at Churchill last month turned into a major news event, with coverage on several local news affiliates. Families from Churchill and Wootton also attended a town hall meeting at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School on Dec. 16. Despite the attention, Solomon’s concern is that the message isn’t being heard by those who most need to hear it.

“I’m afraid we’re preaching to the choir,” Solomon said, sentiments echoed by several parents who spoke at B-CC. “I think the kids still think it can’t happen to them.”

Solomon questions the extent to which efforts to eliminate teenage drinking are likely to succeed, as well as some of the relevant proposed legislation, such as calls to raise the driving age. She hopes parents and their teenage children can be realistic and candid when discussing driving accidents.

“Parents have to keep talking to their kids; this really is a parental issue,” said Solomon. “We have to keep talking to our kids [and] talk to parents who allow their kids to drink, and make sure they don’t drive.

“They just need to know there are consequences [and] it’s not a game; it’s really a serious matter,” Solomon said. “If you think you’re old enough to drink, please be old enough not to get behind the wheel.”

DRIVING NOW TRUMPS other issues that were of concern to Wootton parents earlier this year, said Dianne Ables, president of Wootton’s PTSA. Parents’ concerns about a proposed cell phone tower in Wootton’s athletic stadium gave way to concerns about the rising number of teenage driving fatalities in the county.

Wootton scheduled "Walk Wise, Drive Wise," an all-day workshop, for Tuesday, Dec. 21. There will be workshops and information for parents, including information on parental liability for underage alcohol consumption at their own homes, as well as ways to hold non-alcoholic parties.

“It’s mainly for parents to educate them that there are resources out there to handle their teen drinking,” said Ables. “I think they just really want to get on top of their own teen after hearing [about the local accidents].”

"Walk Wise, Drive Wise" is one of several joint efforts at Wootton and its parents to address driving issues since the school year started. “We had been planning on doing this kind of thing before all these tragedies,” said Ables.

Ables viewed “Smashed,” the HBO documentary that Wootton students viewed on the “Jane Pauley Show.”

“It didn’t just show the kid dying, it showed a kid who was maimed for life,” Ables said. “I think more kids should be able to see that movie. … They don’t realize the force of speed and stopping.”

Later this year, Ables intends to meet with student government leaders to discuss safety during senior prom night and beach week — the latter is an issue that Ables feels is ignored by many in the school community. “They just need to be informed that sending a bunch of kids down there for a weekend isn’t safe,” Ables said.