Our kids are constantly exposed to news stories of adults who make the irresponsible decision to drink and drive. For instance, earlier this month Denver Broncos executive Matt Russell was arrested and charged with DUI after rear-ending a police vehicle while having a blood-alcohol content higher than the legal limit of .08%.
In response to the incident, Russell issued a statement saying: “I apologize to the Denver Broncos, our fans and the National Football League for this inexcusable mistake. I’m ashamed that I represented this region and the Broncos organization in the manner that I did.”
While an apology is certainly called for, it does not make up for the message our kids may be getting from Russell’s example: that it is normal (maybe even acceptable) for everyone—NFL executives included—to make poor judgments when it comes to driving.
So as a parent, how should you bring up the topic of drunk driving with your impressionable teen driver and let them know that it is unacceptable?
Why Teens Drink and Drive
Not surprisingly, peer pressure is frequently the most common reason behind teen drunk driving. Kids feel pressured to fit in and make friends, so they go against their better judgment to not only consume alcohol, but then get behind the wheel when their friends want to go out.
Teens also tend to believe the stories they hear about driving fatalities could never happen to them. This is called the invincibility mentality, and many young drivers put themselves and others at risk by disregarding safety because they think they are immune from harm.
Another common reason for teen drinking and driving is the fear of getting caught. Young drivers may choose to risk the drive over the wrath of their parents if caught—a decision that could cost them their lives.
Talking to Your Teen
Bringing up the topic of drunk driving with your teen can be difficult and awkward, but it is also necessary. Here are just a few tips on how to make your teen understand the dangers of driving while under the influence:
- Start Talking About It Early. Strong no-use discussions regarding drunk driving should occur well before a kid is at driving age so they know the expectations from early on. Also, if you introduce a topic to a teen, you may risk having them ignore you out of adolescent rebellion. Start early.
- Set Rules/Consequences. Establish clear rules for driving in advance, as well as consequences for breaking those rules. Then (and this can be the difficult part), be consistent in enforcing those rules.
- Ask Questions. When your teen goes out, make sure you know where they are going, who they will be with, when they will be back, etc. And check-in with them occasionally to ensure their safety.
We encourage you to open up a dialogue with your teen or pre-teen about the dangers of driving while under the influence as soon as possible so that they understand the real risks involved.