Being a parent of a teenager may have its ups and downs. It’s great to watch your child become more independent, make decisions and take on more responsibilities. It can also be a little nerve-wracking to stand back and let them do things on their own; driving is often one of those things.
If you have a newly licensed teen driver in your home, you’ve probably already started talking about curfews, reminders to top off the gas tank, check in when your teen gets to their destination, and not driving while distracted. If you haven’t talked about drunk driving, you’re not alone, and you’re not too late, but it is an important topic to discuss.
Let’s Start With The Facts
Before you talk to your teen, here are some facts about teens, car accidents, and alcohol use:
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), reports that an estimated 25 percent of accidents with teens involve an underage drinking driver.
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), about 95 percent of people who are alcohol dependent began drinking before the age of 21.
According to the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, an estimated 1 in 7 teens participate in binge drinking, but only 1 in 100 parents believe that their teen does.
Adolescents who start drinking young are seven times more likely to be in an alcohol-related accident, says the NHTSA.
When Should You Start Talking To Your Teen About Drunk Driving?
No parent wants to think that their teen could become another alcohol-related statistic, but there’s a good chance that your teen will have to choose about whether or not to drink alcohol or get in the car with an impaired driver at least once during their high school years.
Rather than ignoring the subject and hoping that your teen will make the right decision, it’s better to talk about it and be clear about your expectations and concerns. It’s also the perfect opportunity to listen to your teen and see what they have to say (their concerns and expectations about alcohol and driving).
There’s no magic age to start talking to your teen about drinking and driving, but according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents should consider talking to their kids about the dangers associated with alcohol as early as nine years old.
Why so young? Between the ages of 9 and 13, children start receiving “positive” messages about alcohol (this can be through advertising, television, or even what they see at home). Some alcohol use starts as early as middle school, and while middle schoolers can’t drive, there are still some negative consequences that should be addressed.
What If My Child Is Over The Age Of 13?
If your teen is over the age of 13, you might be worried that you’ve missed your chance to talk about the dangers of drunk driving and alcohol use in general. It’s never too late to talk to your teen about their health and well-being.
It may be more challenging to have a discussion about alcohol and maybe your teen has already participated in underage drinking; either way, you should still make time to talk to your teen. Not sure how to approach the subject? Here are some tips.
Driving Is A Privilege
If you’re like most parents, you probably pay for your teen’s car insurance and you either bought the vehicle they drive, or you let them use a car that you own.
While having a driver’s license is convenient and a significant rite of passage for some teens, it’s important to remind your teen that driving is a privilege that can be taken away at any time by you (or by the law, if one is broken).
Discuss Real-Life Consequences Of Drunk Driving
Aside from discussing death or injury, many parents don’t know how to apply drunk driving to the “real world.”
While your teen could die in an alcohol-related accident or have a life-changing injury, it’s important to discuss other things like how it could affect getting a job, a scholarship, their opportunities in extracurricular activities like sports, and how their driving record can become tarnished.
Be Open, Honest, and Use Facts
Scare tactics aren’t always effective. If you want your teen to listen, be honest, use facts, and use age-appropriate language (especially when explaining to a younger child). Your teen is more likely to listen and respect you if you’re honest and open with them.
Sign A Pledge As A Family
After you’ve discussed your expectations, concerns, and set some rules about driving sober and never riding with an impaired driver, signing a pledge is a great way to stay accountable. Rather than making your teen driver be the only person to sign the pledge, why not commit to sober driving as a family of drivers?