There are plenty of important conversations you will have with your teenager over the years. One of the most important ones, however, is the discussion about drinking and driving. Although teens in the U.S. are not legally allowed to consume alcohol until age 21, the statistics are sobering. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 1 million teenagers drank alcohol before driving a vehicle at least once in 2011. Unfortunately, Wisconsin had some of the higher rates of intoxicated teen driving in the U.S. that year.
As a parent, you play a major role in education and prevention. Your teen watches you and listens to the words you say – even if it doesn’t seem like it. You are sending messages about drinking to them in one way or another, even if you are staying silent on the matter. By opening up a real conversation about drinking and driving, you can help shape your teen’s beliefs and equip him or her with the knowledge necessary to make healthy choices.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) offers suggestions for starting the conversation with your teenager and creating an environment where your teen feels supported. Examples include:
- Connecting with your teen over a meal, hobby, or even a household chore
- Encouraging your teen when you see small efforts
- Educating your teen about the effects of alcohol – especially for minors
- Following up with teens about their whereabouts
- Letting teens see rules and consequences that are based on love
- Enforcing the rules when they are breached
Create a Parent-Teen Driving Agreement
Parent-teen driving contracts are increasingly recommended for families by the government and independent organization, and with good reason. These driving agreements are more than just a piece of paper. When expectations and guidelines are put on paper, it leaves very little room for a dispute.
Research has shown that newly licensed teens have lower rates of accidents and traffic violations when they have signed an agreement with a parent. You can create and customize your own with curfews, rules, and options for getting a safe ride if your teen has been drinking. You can also use the one provided by the CDC.
Keep the Conversation Going
The conversation about drinking and driving is not a one-time event. Look for opportunities to keep the conversation going as naturally as possible. Sometimes it is as subtle as setting an example by verbally declining alcohol at dinner since you are ‘driving’. Consider sharing stories about your own experiences, including times when you may have resisted peer pressure to drink as a teen.
Other times it might mean having a long talk about what happens to teens when they get caught drinking and driving. The fallout can be tremendous; not only is it difficult to find car insurance for teens who have been convicted of a DUI, but it can also result in fines, license suspension, and even being kicked out of a sports team or club at school.
Signs Your Teen May be Drinking
You might have a suspicion that your teen is drinking, or you might have no idea at all. In some cases, simply asking your teen could yield a confession. In others, it takes a little investigation. Your teen may be drinking if:
- You notice alcohol missing from your home
- You notice a pattern of missed curfews or slipping grades
- Your teen seems irritable, depressed or frequently fatigued
- You notice the smell of alcohol on her breath
- Your teen’s eyes are red and glazed over
Never scold or berate your teen, as this could induce drinking as a rebellious behavior. If your teen continues to drink despite having all of the facts about it, it may be time to seek help.