As the school year begins, back-to-school excitement can soon lead to worry for parents of teenagers. The prospect of high school parties may emerge for the first time, and with that comes concerns about alcohol and drugs.
Though it’s inevitable that teens will be exposed to these things at some point, there are steps that can be taken to try to steer them in the right direction. An essential part of this is warning them about drunk driving, so that they understand just how dangerous it is.
Here are a few tips on how to help teenagers navigate some of these situations.
Talk about it
It sounds obvious, but having honest and open conversations with teenagers is the best first step to keep them away from alcohol and all the negative elements that can go along with it. The more they understand how alcohol affects the brain and the body, the better the chances that they’ll stay out of harmful situations, including getting behind the wheel. Meri Wallace explores this for Psychology Today, advising parents to explain the physical effects and consequences, and that alcohol-related car accidents are “a major cause of teen deaths.”
“Alcohol impairs memory, sensory and motor functioning,” she writes. “It can cause harm to the liver and other organs and lead to illnesses, addiction, and death. Alcohol can cause kids to fail in school, get kicked off a sports team (alcohol affects reaction time, coordination, and balance). Teens that drink often undergo mood swings and bouts of aggression which can seriously harm their relationships. Alcohol harms the frontal cortex of the brain which is involved in planning and decision making. As a result, it diminishes the child’s ability to reason and make good choices.”
Break down the numbers
Some teenagers may go into tune-out mode when parents attempt a serious conversation about alcohol and drunk driving. It can help to have real statistics on hand to back up the argument. Take these stats, for example, about teen drinking from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
- 33 percent of teens have had at least one drink by age 15.
- 60 percent have had a drink by age 18.
- 5.1 million people between ages 12 and 20 reported binge drinking within the past month.
- 1.3 million said they had engaged in binge drinking five or more times within the past month.
As for drunk driving, here’s a sobering stat from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Twenty-eight people die in the United States every day in alcohol-related car accidents. That’s one every 51 minutes. In 2015, 10,265 people died in these accidents.
Make an agreement in writing
If parents are concerned their warnings will go in one ear and out the other, it can help to write out an agreement. Yes, some teenagers will roll their eyes at this exercise, but it could serve as a reminder down the line. Dr. Michele Borba recommends it in a story for NBC’s Today, suggesting a contract that is available at saddonline.com.
“It may help them pause for just the one second they need to not get behind that wheel,” Borba writes. “Stress to your teen that drinking and driving — either as the driver or passenger — means an automatic loss of his or her driving license. Then make a pact: if your teen calls for a ride, he can keep that license. Also, let him know you will be monitoring. (The old ‘waiting at the front door’ technique works wonders: hug (smell for liquor); check eyes for redness; ask how the party was (check speech patterns); and look for gum or mints (to reduce alcohol smell).”
Make it easy
Teenagers may find themselves in an unsafe situation, or just one that calls for discretion to save them from potential embarrassment among their friends. Borba suggests a “secret code” between parent and child as a potential escape route in these scenarios.
“… Create a text code like ‘1-1-1’ or a phrase such as ‘I’m getting the flu’ so your teen can save face and still alert you that he needs a designated driver and rescue,” she explains. “Also make a pact with a trusted adult that if you’re not available, your teen knows he can call that person for help.”
The trust factor is vital in these situations. As Borba writes, parents can take a “no questions asked” approach, and children can pledge to be honest in needing help:
“Many teens admit having a code with their parents but don’t use it because their parents didn’t follow through on their ‘no questions asked’ pledge and disciplined them instead,” she says. “If you want your teen to call, earn their trust. Have emergency backup plans: Give your teen a card with phone numbers of taxicab services and money in a drawer, and tell your teen to use it in case of an emergency. Doing so does not mean you are giving your approval to drink, but you understand that peer pressure is tough and in case something comes up, your teen is prepared and knows how to get a safe ride home.”
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