Pulling up to our son’s Virginia Commonwealth University dorm at 2 a.m. (my spouse works nights so the trip began at midnight), to pick him up for his first weekend home we saw the flashing lights of emergency vehicles and a crew taking a stretcher right to our son’s door.
We held our breath, only to find he helped save the life of a student suffering from potential alcohol poisoning and was not the one in danger.
Knowing alcohol is a college pitfall that can affect grades, lead to injuries, date rape, and even death, we pray our parenting holds them up like invisible training wheels on a bike as they roll away from us their first year of college. However, many things factor into the college equation: increased peer pressure, new freedoms, and the thrill of believing oneself immortal and immune to all fatal harm for young adults.
“He never had alcohol before and went to a party,” my son Zoltan reported after the unconscious boy was taken away by paramedics. “When he came in we didn’t know how bad it was. I asked him what he drank and he just said ‘everything.’ Then I hear the thud and bang, he was out cold.”
This is college, freshman year and many students tend to think a drunken buddy is funny, choosing to scrawl on their faces in marker to photograph for Facebook or Twitter.
According to my son, the resident assistant on duty had done his job: Hearing the boy was drunk, he immediately came to check and, finding him “asleep,” said he would check back in the morning.
At VCU a suite is two or more rooms connected by a common bathroom. This boy was not my son’s roommate, but they had a bathroom in common in which the boy had noisily stumbled prior to passing out.
My son, eldest of four boys, a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Blue Belt and a criminal justice/homeland security major in his freshman year said things just didn’t sit right with him, something was off. I’m not saying my son’s an angel, but he is a solid caretaker.
He gathered the other suitemates together and told them he was going home for the weekend and someone would have to watch the unconscious student. During the discussion the boy, spread-eagle on his back in bed, began to choke. "So I rolled him on his side and called the RA and his roommate,” Zoltan explained.
How did he know to do this when the others didn’t? A high school friend had experienced the same episode and he was told about someone else doing it to save him.
According to my son, the RA and others argued about what to do next because the boy would surely be in trouble for under-aged drinking. There was apparently a fair amount of peer pressure on the side of “Let’s just wait and see what happens” and "don’t make waves in a storm thinking." I wonder how much pressure there was on this student to drink, drink, drink!
Something I believe really helped mold my son into a shepherd rather than a sheep, was the Gracie Bullyproof program of jiu-jitsu he began as a sophomore in high school. It instilled the confidence in him to stand his ground in the face of that peer pressure and gave him that core of
authority and confidence.
“I told them he was choking to death,” Zoltan says. “It’s better safe than sorry. We had to get outside help. I’d rather have him alive and in trouble than explain to his parents why we left him.”
“It’s better safe than sorry,” was my grandmother’s phrase, my mother’s and mine, the consummate broken record.
I am not claiming to be the only parent ever to drum in that phrase, just celebrating one of the times when, as the mother of four boys, somebody listened and remembered an important lesson. It’s just validation for every parent who has been that broken record, become their parents and wondered if they should just shut up. The answer is to keep that record playing and pump up the volume.
Here’s why: According to a College Task Force report to the NationalInstitute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “the consequences of excessive drinking by college students are more significant, more destructive, and more costly than many parents realize. And these consequences affect students whether or not they drink.”
Statistics from this report show drinking by college students aged 18 to 24 contributes to an estimated 1,825 student deaths, 599,000 injuries, and 97,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape each year.
The boy called my son two days later to thank him and assure him that he was not expelled, but would receive counseling and support in making more careful choices. Good on you VCU for having those resources and approach.
Our children are going to surprise us for better or worse, and while we love them through it all, it’s never too late to remind them, “It’s better safe than sorry.”