Last week our school was lucky enough to host Kathi Meyer, a local mother whose teenage daughter died last year after drinking with friends before and after homecoming. Because our own homecoming was last Friday, we wanted to use the assembly as a jumping off point for discussing responsible choices with our students, particularly freshman and sophomores in our advisory groups.
For once I was on my own with advisory Friday (I usually have a co-advisor, but she was out), and I did veer a little into some interesting topics–somehow a student came up with the misconception that light beer has less alcohol (which is apparently true in other countries, but not in the US, where “light” primarily refers to low-calorie)–but my kids mostly had great contributions to the discussion.
One contribution I wasn’t expecting? Blaming the mother.
More than once I had a student chime in wondering if (or outright declaring that) the mother might be partly responsible for her daughter’s death. Shouldn’t she have known that her daughter was drinking? Couldn’t she have done something to keep her home or stop her from partying?
I tried to steer the conversation away from this line of questioning by saying I didn’t want to speculate on blame or guilt–while one point of our discussion was certainly the idea that a single decision (or a series of decisions) can have very serious consequences, I said, I’m sure that all the involved parties, from Meyer to her daughters’ friends to teachers at the high school, already feel the horrible weight of responsibility.
While I can understand the impulse to find a “guilty party” in even tragic cases like this, I was a bit taken aback by what I perceived as a distinct lack of empathy among my students. I certainly saw kids later in the day who had been visibly moved by the presentation, but among my group I heard more blame and disapproval.
How do we inject compassion into these discussions if it’s not automatic for kids?