Between the holidays, the end of the year, and the beginning of a new year (and in this case, a whole new decade) there are many opportunities for parties, and many opportunities for driving while being impaired.
Not just for adults, either – for teenagers as well. While it’s natural to want to get together with friends and celebrate the holidays or the milestones that accompany the end of the year, it’s also a time when many parents worry about their driving-aged teenagers’ safety.
Can you be sure that your teen will say “no” if they’re offered a drink or drugs at a party? If they don’t say “no” to the drink or substance, can you be sure that they’ll at least abstain from getting behind the wheel? If your teen isn’t driving, how can you be certain that the friends that will be driving them will stay sober?
This is one of the tougher aspects of parenting – your teen is old enough to go out on their own and handle or arrange their own transportation, but still young and inexperienced enough that they may make rash decisions that could have very dangerous consequences.
What’s a parent to do? How can you be sure that you’re protecting your teen?
Take a look at some things you can do to help prevent teens from driving while impaired.
Don’t Assume Your Teen Already Knows
Avoiding driving while impaired may seem like an obvious choice for you. But that doesn’t mean that you should assume that the answer is so obvious to your teenager.
If you, as an adult, realize that you’re impaired and can’t drive, what would you do? You might call a taxi, an Uber, a friend, or a relative to drive you home. The worst that can happen when you do this is that you may have to spend money to get home and time collecting your car the next day.
Now think about it from your teen’s perspective. If your teen realizes that they are impaired, they might first think of getting a friend to drive them home. But their friends might also be impaired. They could call you, but your teen might be concerned that they’ll get into trouble if they do that.
In the moment, getting grounded or restricted from privileges may seem like a bigger risk than just trying to drive home carefully. Other adults that they may call present the same problem – who do they know that wouldn’t tell you about it if your teen called them? Your teen could call a taxi or an Uber, but if they use your credit card or a family Uber account, then you’ll find out. There’s also the problem of the car – how will they explain coming home without it to you if they find another way home?
Introduce the Real Consequences of Driving While Impaired
Of course, you will probably say that none of the possible consequences of calling for a ride or coming home in a sober driver’s car instead of their own are as bad as potentially getting into an accident while driving impaired. And that’s true – but your teen may see the accident as a very remote possibility, while they’re likely to be much more familiar with the type of discipline they can expect to receive at home if they break your rules. So finding a way home that doesn’t result in being punished may seem more important in their minds.
You want to get your teen thinking about the very real consequences of impaired driving:
- They could go to jail,
- They could lose their license for a long period of time.
- A DUI conviction could keep them out of their preferred college or prevent them from getting a job,
- They could be injured, die, or even cause someone else’s death.
Loosen Your Grip
You, as their parent, want to protect them from all of these terrible possibilities, but you can’t do it without their help. What you need them to do is promise to call you if they can’t drive themselves safely and don’t have a sober ride.
It can help to tell your teen that you won’t immediately punish them for needing to call you in the first place.
Sure, you probably don’t want your teen drinking or doing drugs at all. But you can always deal with that later – the first priority is getting your teen home safely. If that means holding off on punishment for bad behavior, that’s a small price to pay.
In this situation, it’s more important to reinforce for your teen that calling you is the right thing to do.
Help Your Teen Handle Peer Pressures of Driving While Impaired
Teens don’t usually decide to start drinking or using drugs entirely on their own. On the other hand, peer pressure doesn’t always look like adults think that it looks.
Giving your teen blanket advice like “just say no,” can fall flat, because it doesn’t necessarily address the reality of the situations that your teen might find themselves in.
Instead, sit down and talk to your teen about what peer pressure looks like as they’ve experienced it. Try to really listen to what your teen has to say.
They may fear being ostracized by friends if they don’t go along with what those friends are doing, or they may worry about being dumped by a boyfriend or girlfriend if they come across as uncool or uptight. Their friends or partners may not explicitly insist that they drink or do drugs but may display displeasure with your teen for abstaining in more subtle ways that are harder to resist.
Talk to your teen about what they can do in these situations and how to handle them. Take your teen’s concerns seriously, and offer suggestions based on those concerns rather than any preconceived ideas you have about how peer pressure might present itself. Your teen can learn to resist peer pressure, but they’ll be more successful if they talk through and prepare for real situations that might present themselves.
Even if you think your teen is too responsible to drive while impaired, it’s important to have these discussions with them. Even responsible teens (and adults!) can make mistakes.
What’s important is to ensure that your teen doesn’t compound the mistake by driving under the influence.
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and Founder and Executive Director of Paradigm Treatment Centers, who has been a respected leader in the field of adolescent mental health for more than 20 years. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California, his Master’s degree from Loyola Marymount University, his Doctoral degree from Pacific University’s APA approved Clinical Psychology program, and completed his training at the University of California, San Diego’s APA approved psychology internship program.
Dr. Nalin has provided training and mentoring to students entering the field of psychology at institutions of learning including Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology, UCSD, Pacific University, and Santa Monica College. He was also instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
Dr. Nalin has appeared as an expert on shows ranging from CBS News and Larry King, to CNN, The Today Show and MTV. He was also featured in an Anti-Drug Campaign for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Dr. Nalin is a Diplomate of the National Institute of Sports Professionals and a Certified Sports Psychologist as well as a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist. He lectures and conducts workshops nationally on the issues of teen mental health, substance abuse prevention, and innovative adolescence treatment.
In 2017 Dr. Nalin was awarded The Sigmund Freud Foundation and Sigmund Freud University’s Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his work with youth in the field of mental health over the course of his career.