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Thursday, August 18, 2011

My Teen is About to Drive - How Do I Know He Won't Drink?

When you're done reading check out the Shattered Dream video series on YouTube. Gives kids a sense of what drinking and driving really results in. 

Nothing has freaked me out lately as much as the fact that my 15 year-old now has a learner's permit. We've done two stints around a parking lot and soon will be out on the street. I avoided it for as long as possible. I'm going to keep claiming that driver's ed is too expensive without help from dad for as long as I can get away with it.

All I can visualize is that car wrapped around a tree, the understanding phone call, the scream inside my head. I just cannot go there.

Fact is this is a step I'm just not ready for. His friends will all be getting licenses. They will all be driving. How can I as a parent insure that my son will not get in a car with someone who has been drinking or that he won't have a couple of drinks, feel invincible and decide it's OK to drive home?  I don't think I can. All of the facts and the science tell me that's what's going to happen. So does my own history. And that's what scares me the most.

What Kind of Kid are You Raising?

Oh I can explain the science of alcohol and I know it will have some impact. But in that moment, whether he decides to get into that car or not isn't going to have anything to do with all of the information about the dangers of alcohol. It's going to be about him and how influenced he will be by his own desire to do whatever the heck he wants.

I went to the Internet for answers and I found the usual hyperbole about not permitting your teen to drink, locking away all the alcohol, don't drink yourself, etc. That's all fine, but if a 16 year-old is determined to do something, short of locking him in his room which he will find a way to get out of, it's not about convincing. It's about instilling values in your son or daughter from day one that they live by and so do you.

If I've had a drink and my kid needs to be picked up somewhere at the last minute, I tell him to sleep over or take public transportation. If we go to a party I make a point of only having one drink. And I let them know and see that too. I even stopped taking my kids to parties at the home of a family that I know drinks way too much, as do most of their friends. They are nice people and I enjoy spending time with them, but my kids don't need to see that.

Yet I know my son's friends are drinking and although I've never seen him wasted he probably is drinking too. I don't think he is drinking that much, but I'm sure there is some. We all try things as we grow up. Because I'm supposedly an expert on this subject, I know it's the American obsession with abstinence that in part spurs  binge drinking. In Europe where you can have wine at dinner in your mid teens there isn't this wild, let's get wasted kegger thing that happens in college. The more kids hear no, no, no, the more they tell themselves yes. So I don't yell and scream and say no, no, no. I make sure they know they can tell me anything and I'm sure I'll be praying some too.

Did I mention that I lost a good friend in high school and a new acquaintance in college both because of drunk driving? That every time there's a big accident involving a high school kid who is drunk I use it as a teachable moment. Is my son listening? He's 15. His brain is focused on clothes, girls, friends and school. There's very little room in there for common sense or anything that doesn't have to do with himself. As a 15 year-old in a Partnership at Drugfree.org put it discussing the parent child relationship at that age, "You are an ATM machine."

Who has some influence?

Perhaps the most persuasive bit of information he got was from the 9th grade health teacher. Mr. S is not a parent. He's a man in his 30s who coaches multiple teams, talks about his own late nights though not in detail, has multiple girl friends because he's really good looking, and is so funny and refreshingly honest the kids adore him.

He brings people into the classroom to talk to them about stuff they shouldn't do like drinking and driving, taking drugs and having unprotected sex. He brought in a guy who was a quadraplegic from a car accident where everyone was wasted. He brought in a heterosexual male with HIV, and had him talk about how he got it. He brought in someone who had spent several years in prison for drug dealing. The list goes on.

After each one of these people visited that health class I was told who came in, what they said, what it was like to experience their experience, and this was from my son. This health teacher used real people and they made a strong impression.

Other teachers should do it too. And if I can find people who will tell my kids stories about their own experiences - I'll get out of their way and let them.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if the "Listen to me, kid, and don't do what I did" approach actually works. Those "scared straight" films in HS drivers ed never worked on me. The best thing my parents ever did was refuse to buy me a car when I was a teen. I was too irresponsible. They eventually bought me a car when I was in college. I got drunk and drove into a tree. So they probably should have never bought me a car at all. My sibling on the other hand was very responsible, got a car at 16, and never had a traffic violation of any sort. That was 20 years ago. Know your kid!