Sunday Mornings with Rania: Spring Break Tragedies - Gone Too Soon

If I had written a “spring break safety” article one week ago, most would have glossed over it. From time to time, even I find those “travel/holiday safety” articles inconsequential . . . after all, so many of us seem to come and go without incident (thank heavens).  

But then there are those moments when tragedy strikes, when we wish we could turn back the clock and make health and safety our number one priority. In those moments, we wish we had read every article, made every observation, had every conversation, and took every precaution... In our weakness we find ourselves saying, “if only we had…”

This last week - Spring Break for so many - is a week in which I wish I could turn back the clock. Over this last seven days, tragedies seem to come one after the other: To begin, my church community lost an incredible, faithful, honest, smart, ambitious and amazing young man, a freshman at A&M, in a tragic car accident; in another part of town, a colleague of mine shared that her daughter’s college friend was just placed on life support after overdosing on drugs; another colleague shared that one of her teen cousins had just committed suicide due to cyberbullying; I crumbled as my newsfeed shared that a young boy in Houston lost his life during a game of Russian Roulette; and we all read about the 14-year-old who ran away from home, was kidnapped, and forced into a sex trafficking ring....These are only five incidents amongst a list of many.

I find myself broken at the thought of such pain and tragedy… if only we could turn back the clock. Sadly, today’s firm resolve doesn’t change yesterday’s devastating reality; it does, however, reshape the future. So, this post is written in honor of those beautiful lives who left us. For their sake we say, “Never again.”

While accidents happen and there is nothing that can be done to change them, there are some tragedies we can curb. It starts by not glossing over safety topics and talking to your tweens, teens and young adults about issues most commonly affecting our youth. Here’s a review:

  • On the road: According to the Center for Disease Control, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for US teens. This is a fact. Knowing this, we must remind teen drivers and even young adult drivers about the importance of wearing seatbelts, following speed limits, not using cell phones while driving {reminder, it’s against the law}, inspecting the vehicles they use and remembering that their time in the car is serious not social. In our loss this past week, the accident was due to a blown tire and no fault of the driver or the young men in the car. It was a tragedy that we, as a church community, especially the family and those near them, will seek to make sense of.  
  • Online: Each and every day, we must talk to our children about being good digital citizens and to never engage in cyberbullying. If we are dealing with a child that is bullied, we must do whatever we possibly can to stop the abuse and protect/build up that child. Save copies of everything, report incidents to law enforcement, take the bullying seriously and carry your child through the process. Additionally, talk and talk and talk about what apps your child uses to engage with others socially. Remind them of the risks and dangers as well as which apps are known to be most used by predators (KIK is one of the worst). There is no need to be using “hidden apps” and never meet anyone offline that you only know online. Never. 
  • Drugs and Alcohol: Even if you sound like a broken record, let’s keep talking about drugs and alcohol. *Parents beware* - there is a new trend of mixing heroin and fentanyl and it’s gaining popularity. The combination is deadly. 
  • DO NOT RUN AWAY. If you do, here’s what to expect: Law enforcement estimates that a large majority of runaways will have been found and picked up by a sex trafficking ring within 48 hours of hitting the streets. According to Children At Risk, it is estimated that 1 out of every 6 endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children were likely victims of child sex trafficking. Predators who have learned that you are a runaway will see your child as a lucrative money-making machine that will quickly have no other choice for survival. There will be homelessness, hunger and desperation. Running away – at least to the streets – is never the answer. If there are problems in the home, help your child find another home or trusted adult to go to, regardless of how deep your anger or sadness might be.
  • GUNS IN THE HOME. More than 3,200 gun-related deaths occur in Texas  each year; it is the #2 cause of accidental death among children in Harris County. It goes without saying that guns must be properly locked . . . but we all know that tweens and teens get into everything. Gun safety education is critical, something that must be discussed over and over and over again. Even if the kids get ahold of your weapons, do they understand the magnitude of what they are holding and dealing with? Also - and while this is difficult - have a frank conversation with yourself about the mental health of your home and your family members. We want you, each of your family members and our entire community to stay safe.

As I sit and write this, my heart breaks for the mothers and fathers crying themselves to sleep tonight. For them I have no words other than we love you, support you and are praying for you. While it is impossible to understand the burden you carry, know those in your communities will do anything to carry it with you. For those students who were faced with a tragedy this past spring break week, we come together to embrace you as well. Accidents happen. We learn from them. We forgive ourselves and we live on in the memory of those we left behind.  

As for this mom, I’m reminding myself to say “never again.” I’m remembering to take a proactive approach to the health and safety of myself and my family with a renewed safety plan each and every day…. I hope you will join me. 

About the author

Executive Director of Crime Stoppers of Houston