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IN LIVING COLOR, THE REAL, PAINFUL CONSEQUENCES OF RISK-TAKING

The only way you can tell that this bloody mass lying on the hospital gurney is a teenage male is to look at the lower half of his face.

His wide-open mouth is screaming in agony, and the screaming makes blood glint off metal braces and trickle down onto the collar of a high school football jacket.

It's the most gruesome thing I've seen on TV in years. So when my fifth-grade son walks into the living room, I react quickly and grab the remote.

But I do not change the channel. Instead, I pop up the volume a notch. Then I point to the screen.

"Watch this," I say.

The camera crew from cable television's "Trauma: Life in the ER" zooms in on technicians working feverishly to save the bloodied kid. He is drunk. He has wrapped the family SUV around a telephone pole. And he cannot feel his legs.

My son's hand, as I pull him down onto the couch next to me, is cold and damp with fear. His face is getting a little pale. And here is what I think:

Good. Be scared.

That's awful to read, I suppose, and believe me, it's even more awful to feel.

But lately I've been wondering if perhaps "Trauma," the Learning Channel's highest-rated show, might in showing all these injured, bloodied and troubled lives, somehow save my child's life. And yours.

Videotaped over hundreds of hours in real hospital emergency rooms, nothing is off-limits and nothing is too disturbing to show. And at this point, I'm thinking that a little "disturbing" is exactly what is needed.

Recently the National Institutes of Health said that the top indicator of whether boys and girls will start to drink or smoke is whether they have friends who do. And when does the pressure start? Try fifth grade, sixth at the latest.

"In the '70s, we said we gotta get to 'em in high school. Then, by the '80s, it was, we gotta get to 'em by middle school," says Amherst Police Sgt. Michael Turillo, who runs the town's Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program in schools there.

Now they start the program in fifth grade. But lately, Turillo has wondered if they shouldn't start even sooner and get more graphic than 17 weeks of 45-minute lectures.

He's not knocking D.A.R.E. And I'm not either. My fifth-grader dug the Orchard Park cop who taught his course so much you would have thought the guy was Shannon Sharpe.

It's just that D.A.R.E. doesn't really work.

According to a 1999 NIH study, one of several national studies that questioned D.A.R.E.'s effectiveness, kids who had taken the course used drugs and alcohol at the same rate 10 years later as kids who hadn't.

Last year, a four-month Detroit News study found essentially the same thing in that city.

Lectures, town parades, ribbon-wearing days and program certificates are nice, but they don't keep kids from taking that first swig or toke any more than a first lady primly admonishing them to Just Say No.

For lots of disbelieving, it-can't-happen-to-me kids, there is nothing like "seeing the colors of blood, the texture of brains and the tears coming down family faces," says South Towns adolescent therapist Lynn O'Connor, particularly when it's followed by a lot, and she means a lot, of talking.

"There is flat-out no substitute for talking to your kid," says O'Connor. "If they're going to watch the show, then you watch them watch it. And for God's sake, don't ever leave the room."

You might miss something important.

Like your child seeing what a head looks after it has gone through a car windshield because the body attached to it wasn't wearing a seat belt.

Or how a 14-year-old gang banger's back resembles Swiss cheese after it has been riddled with bullets.

Or how a mother's face goes blank after a doctor tells her that her son, who was car-surfing - standing on the roof of his buddy's car as it peeled around a parking lot - died of head injuries.

There's no Doug Ross-Carol Hathaway kissy-face providing romantic relief here. There's no Dr. Greene wrestling with office politics.

Just actions resulting in horrible consequences, images that are 100 percent real.

And images are what linger in the mind, long after the parade-ribbon has slipped down behind the dresser and the I-Won't-Do-Drugs T-shirt has become a dust rag.

At this point, I still want my son to have the parade, the ribbon, the certificate and the T-shirt.

But I also want him to be good and scared. And I want that fear to be permanent.

So when "Trauma" airs on TLC's "Medical Tuesdays" (followed by the similar shows "Paramedics," which tracks a team of EMT's, and "Code Blue," which stays with one hospital ER staff for a whole season), a blank tape in our VCR whirs.

And when careful scanning turns up a segment about a DWI, or a kid who picked up a gun or a needle or a knife, I hit pause.

I call my son in. And then I point to the screen:

"Watch this."

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