When tragic accidents take young lives, we look for answers.
The coroner’s report into the deaths of Vanessa Empsall, 20, from Pincourt and Jean Désir Fils Milfort, 22, from Kirkland, was released this month. Alcohol, fatigue, poor visibility and no seat belts played roles in the fatal crash in June.
The two friends were on their way home after spending the evening at a downtown club. It is suspected Empsall fell asleep at the wheel. The car veered off l’Anse à l’Orme Rd. in Kirkland and hit a tree.
In the home, parents warn their teenagers about the dangers of drinking and driving.
In the public forum, there are media campaigns focusing on the horrible consequences of driving while drunk.
And at school, teachers talk to students about the dangers of alcohol misuse.
Is the “just say no” approach working?
Not according to Montreal clinical psychologist and researcher Dr. Patricia Conrod. Conrod is involved, on an international level, in the application of a different approach to preventing young people from making risky choices.
“It’s not enough to train children to resist peer pressure,” Conrod said. “(In London) we ran workshops that helped students better understand their personality strengths and to recognize what personality characteristics might put them at risk. When they understood who they are, we asked them about their long-term goals and we talked about different ways of coping with the stresses in life.
“The results have been very positive. The workshops helped delay the onset of drinking and binge drinking.”
Conrod is hoping to bring this approach, with its strong mental-health component, to Montreal in the next two years.
“Research has clearly shown us that the adolescent brain is pruning itself, refining itself until around 21 years old,” Conrod said. “In general, at that age, young people do become better decision makers.”
Conrod said that at Empsall’s and Milfort’s ages, young adults are already forging independent lives and making their own decisions.
The parental role has been reduced to trying to balance a measure of supervision with the young person’s push for independence.
“That’s the way it should be at that age,” Conrod said. “That’s why it’s important for young people to know at an early age who they are, understand their long-term goals and to be given the skills to supervise themselves in order to attain those goals.”