Why Rules Can Save Lives
Over the weekend there was a horrible car accident near my home. At first the details were sketchy. There were deaths at the scene. The driver fled. The passengers were young. By Sunday night the story was more clear and the local news showed the picture of a beautiful eighteen year old girl, just weeks from high school graduation, who had been killed in the accident around 3 a.m. Sunday.
My first reaction was sadness for her classmates. I lost four friends in high school from cancer, asthma, homicide, and a car accident. I know the devastation of losing someone at that age, and my heart broke for those kids.
But then my thoughts turned to the parents. I know, I know. I'm not supposed to say it. We aren't supposed to go there. But why was she in that car at three in the morning? I imagined many scenarios. Late curfews or strict rules. Someone sneaking out. Rules changing on an 18th birthday. A fight that ended with a child leaving in a car full of boys headed to a party. Did they even know she was there? And that phone call…my God.
My children are five and seven and our rules revolve around the very easy such as saying please and thank you to the still pretty easy such as don't watch Spongebob Squarepants. I cannot fathom the battles that await me as a parent. But I know the safety that is provided to children when rules are set - yes, tough rules, strict rules, uncomfortable rules - and so I'm already preparing for battle, digging in my heels pre-emptively. In that moment when I heard that news, I realized clearly that the rules set by my parents saved my life.
I grew up in a rural area with windy back roads lined by dense, thick trees. Entertainment choices ranged from renting a movie to drinking in a cornfield, and with no restaurants, movie theaters, or stores within 30 minutes of town, any classic teenager fun involved a car. From the time I reached junior high, the bar was set. I would not stay out past 11 p.m. Once I had my license in eleventh grade, I would not stay out past midnight (thank you, Pennsylvania "Cinderella license" law). I would not ride in cars with friends, but our home had an open door policy. There was no drinking. None. Not in my house. Not in my friend's houses. Not in a field. Not in the back of a pick-up truck. No. Drinking. But my house often teemed with people, including those who would sleep over on our couches - no questions asked - to avoid sending drowsy drivers out onto dark, rural roads.
I was not perfect, of course. I drove a sports car and at times I drove too fast, often to make that midnight curfew. But I firmly believe that the rules set by my parents and the clear, enforced consequences kept me safe. Not only that, but they became so ingrained into who I was as a person that when I moved to Washington, DC, to attend college at the age of seventeen, I could still hear their voices in my head, their guidelines continuing to steer me in the right direction. This is the best a parent can hope for, that the rules they set in their home become internalized, a natural course of action.
So I look at my children at five and seven, and I'm fully prepared to say no, to break their hearts. Because I know it will save so many more broken hearts if I manage to get through to them...
Don't miss the newest season of America's Most Wanted. Premiering on Lifetime Friday, December 2 at 9 pm/8c. Watch a preview.