The days between Memorial Day and Labor Day encompass some of the most amazing events of the year for teens: Prom, graduation, summer vacation. These times of celebration are sometimes accompanied by parties involving alcohol and drugs which can lead to dangerous circumstances. In Washington, the 4 months between May and September are some of the most dangerous for teen drivers. The local news station just ran a story about this issue and I know we’ve covered the dangers of alcohol as well as teen driving, but feel it’s very timely to cover it again.
I can recall the first person I knew who was the victim of drunk driving. We were 12 years old and in the 6th grade. I’d known him since kindergarten and we’d been classmates every year. His family’s car was hit by a drunk driver and he was killed after a week in a coma. I still think of him to this day more than 20 years later and wonder who he would have become if his life weren’t cut short by something completely preventable.
Whenever I ask a teen about underage drinking or drug use, I ask if they’ve every been in a car where the driver was intoxicated or if they’ve driven while under the influence. I’m shocked by how often teens answer ‘yes’ to this question. While teens can tell me that drinking and driving is dangerous, they minimize the risk and developmentally, they may not be able to understand the consequences that can result.
So how can a parent keep there teen safe?
- Talk with your teen about your expectations of their behavior. Discuss consequences when you’re all calm and consider allowing your teen to have some say in what those consequences will be ahead of time. Let them know that drug and alcohol use is something you do not condone.
- Do not supply drugs and/or alcohol. This may sound obvious, but some parents (or older uncles, aunts, cousins, siblings) believe that throwing a party with alcohol at home is a safe alternative to their teen going elsewhere. This is dangerous and illegal. Though your teen may be at home, this puts others at risk for driving while under the influence, alcohol poisoning, and risky behavior they may not participate in while sober (such as other drug use, sexual assault, unsafe sex).
- Have a ‘free phone call’ policy. Let your teen know that they can call you day or night to pick them up if they’re unsafe to drive (or their friends are unsafe to drive). When you pick them up, avoid the temptation to yell or discuss consequences in the moment. Get them home and talk about their behavior and the consequences the next day.
- Know the parents of your teen’s friends. Communicate with the other adults in your community and let them know you don’t agree with underage drinking and the potential risk to your teen (or theirs).
Here are more resources on drinking and driving: