This morning, parenting expert Dr. Michelle Borba appeared on the Today Show to discuss methods parents can use to stop their teens from driving while impaired (and from riding with impaired drivers). The end of the school year is fast approaching: prom and graduation are just around the corner. It's an ideal time to approach this topic with the teen driver in your life.
Dr. Borba's advice is especially useful because she offers specific, practical methods that parents can easily implement. "Adolescence has always been a time of experimentation," Dr. Borba says. "But the choices parents make and the conversations you have with your teen matter." Here are the 7 basic strategies she recommends:
1. Set clear rules against drinking.
Often, as parents, it can be tempting to put off a conversation until our children are "older." But the fact is that teens are being exposed to drugs and alcohol at extremely young ages. It's best to talk to your teen before a situation presents itself, rather than after it's already happened. Also, it doesn't matter whether or not your teen has a license and/or a vehicle - even if they don't, their friends do. According to Dr. Borba, when parents set clear boundaries and monitor activities, their teens are four times less likely to "engage in risky behaviors like drinking and driving."
2. Put a no drinking and driving rule in writing.
Dr. Borba says anything you can do to give your teen pause - to make them consider what they're doing just one more time - is worth doing. She suggests including the following provision: your teen agrees that drinking and driving (whether as driver or passenger) will mean an automatic loss of his/her license; you agree that your teen can call you for a ride any time, and keep his/her license. Importantly, you have to honor your end of the bargain: if you make your teens promise to call you for a ride, and then you lecture and punish them, it's unlikely that they'll call you for help again.
Dr. Borba also recommends the "waiting at the front door technique," where you hug your teen (smell for liquor and check eyes for redness), and ask how the party was (check speech patterns; smell breath; check for mints and gum to mask the smell). Again, if your teen realizes you're paying attention to these things, he or she may think twice before drinking.
3. Form an alliance with other parents.
80% of parents believe their teens are attending "substance free parties," but half of teens who attend parties say that drugs, alcohol, or both are available at high school gatherings. What's more, while 99% of parents say they would never serve alcohol at a teen's party, somehow 28% of teens have been served alcohol at parties supervised by parents. It's important to know your teen's friends' parents - simply calling to introduce yourself can make a world of difference. Then, you can always send a quick text to verify plans or confirm that a party is supervised.
4. Create a "family code."
Sometimes teens don't call for help when they need it simply because they're afraid of what their friends will think. Dr. Borba recommends a text code like "111" or even something like "I'm getting the flu": when parents get the message, they know their teen needs a designated driver.
5. Don't make alcohol available.
Lock the liquor cabinet, and keep a close eye on it. The easiest way for teens to gain access to alcohol is to steal it from their parents (or their friends' parents).
6. Create a "safety net" for special occasions.
Make specific plans for events like prom and graduation night, when alcohol use tends to be more prevalent among teenagers. Set up designated drivers, or consider hiring a limo or car service to cut back on driving time.
7. Talk, and keep talking.
A recent study showed that only 22% of parents talk to their licensed teen driver regularly about safe driving. As your teen learns how to handle driving responsibilities, you'll need to provide direction and reinforcement: as Dr. Borba said, those conversations matter. Sometimes, they matter more than we can ever know.