April 16, 2012 at 7:30 AM ET
Alcohol-related car crashes are the number one killer of teens. These next two months, with graduation and proms, are especially dangerous times. You might think, “My kid would never drink and drive or get in the car with an intoxicated peer.” But Dateline found that most teens do.
A Liberty Mutual/SADD 2011 Teen Driving Report found these troubling stats:
• One in five teens admit driving under the influence of marijuana
• One in four teens say they would take a ride from a driver who was high on marijuana or prescription drugs
• One in eight teens say being impaired by marijuana is not distracting while driving.
Let’s be clear: we know peer pressure is huge. Teens want to fit in, and alcohol and marijuana are easily accessible. Adolescence has always been a time of experimentation. But the choices parents make and the conversations you have with your teen matter. Research shows there are parenting strategies to lower risky behaviors; here are critical tips to boost your teen’s safety and your sanity.
1. Set clear rules against drinking
A study of over 1000 teens found that teens with “hands on” parents who establish clear behavior expectations, monitor their teens comings and goings, and aren’t afraid to say no are four times less likely to engage in risky behaviors like drinking and driving. Feel free to be strict without feeling guilty. It makes no difference whether your teen has a driver’s license or a car — peers do. So stress one rule: “NEVER ever drink and drive.”
2. Put a no drinking and driving rule in writing
Have your teen sign a contract to never drink and drive. Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) www.saddonline.com provides a free online contract to download. It may help them pause for just the one second they need to not get behind that wheel. 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).
3. Form an alliance with other parents
Ninety-nine percent of parents say they would not serve alcohol at their kid’s party; but 28% of teens say they have been at supervised parties where alcohol is available. A Survey by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia also found that half of teens who attend parties say alcohol, drugs or both are available, though 80 percent of parents believe teens attend substance-free parties.
Know your teen’s friends and their parents. Make a pact to monitor each other’s kids and pledge that there will be no unsupervised parties.
4. Create a secret code with your teen
Teens say that losing face with peers is a big reason they don’t call for help. “I couldn’t call you. My friends would hear!” So 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. Also make a pact with a trusted adult that if you’re not available, your teen knows he can call that person for help.
Promise that you’ll pick your teen with no questions asked. 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. 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.
5. Don’t make liquor available
Teens admit getting alcohol is easy -- and the easiest place to get it is at home. The second easiest place is their friends’ homes. So, lock up your liquor supply. Don’t tell your teen where the key is! Count those liquor bottles. And admonish older siblings to not be the supplier.
6. Create a safety net for special occasions
Prom and graduation night are teen occasions when alcohol is more prevalent and drunk driving accidents peak. Get on board with the school and other parents to reduce the likelihood of drinking and driving to keep teens safer.
• Set up a Safe Rides program in your community.
• Designate other peers, older siblings or younger classmates as drivers who do not drink.
• Consider hiring a limo for a group of teens who are going to an event together.
• Don’t let your teen rent a hotel room after an event. Limit the amount of driving.
7. Talk it through with your teen
Peer pressure is fierce, and teens say those “Just say no” lines don’t work. So help your adolescent think of things to say to peers that let her save face and buck the pressure: “My dad will take away my license.” “I don’t need a ride -- my friend is coming.” “My mom will ground me for life — and she always finds out.”
If teens are at your home, you are responsible for their safety and well-being. Be at the door when they leave. Tell them you will wait up and be at the door when they return. Ensure that they are safe to drive. If you have just an ounce of doubt, take their keys and you be the driver. Now go talk to your teen. And then talk again and again and again. And don’t forget, teens get their views about alcohol from watching. Be the example you want your teen to follow.
NOTE: The special four-part Dateline parenting series “My Kid Would Never…” airs each Sunday night in April.
Dr. Michele Borba is a TODAY contributor, author, parenting expert and educational consultant. For more about her work see MicheleBorba.com or follow her on twitter @MicheleBorba