Teens using alcohol

How to Deal with Underage Drinking: Tips for Parents

Restricting your teen’s access to alcohol is one of the most important things you can do for them as a parent. There are highly-publicized risks of fatal alcohol poisonings and devastating motor vehicle crashes due to drinking and driving, for example. But there are other, less-publicized risks that could be equally destructive to your teen’s health and well-being, such as increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancy, violence and rape, and suicide.

Of course, underage alcohol use has consequences other than legal ramifications:

  • Early alcohol use, independent of other risk factors, strongly predicts the development of alcohol dependence. Of all people who ever meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence in their lifetime, nearly half do so by age 21 and two-thirds by age 25.
  • Due to differences between the adult brain and the brain of the maturing adolescent, many young drinkers:
    • Are able to consume much larger amounts of alcohol than adults before experiencing the negative consequences of drinking, such as drowsiness, lack of coordination, and withdrawal/hangover effects.
    • Are particularly sensitive to the positive effects of drinking, such as feeling more at ease in social situations; young people may drink more than adults because of these positive social experiences (NIAAA, 2009).
  • Recent evidence suggests adolescent drinking can inflict permanent damage on the developing brain (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2004).

To help your teen avoid the use of alcohol and its attendant problems, maintain an ongoing, open dialogue about underage drinking and the risks involved. Make sure she understands that underage drinking is never acceptable. The fact that she is at a party or it is a special occasion or that some parents might “look the other way” when their teenage children drink alcohol does not change the fact that underage drinking is illegal and very dangerous. If your teen is attending a party at a friend’s house, make sure her friends’ parents don’t intend to provide alcohol; this is illegal in every state. You might be surprised to discover that other parents plan to provide their teens and their friends with alcohol in a “safe” manner and location. Make sure your teen understands that other adults can’t give her permission to drink alcohol. An alternative is to talk to your teen about organizing a get-together at your own home.

If you and your teen decide to host a party, make a guest list with your teen. Limit the number of teens so you can be sure of adequate chaperonage. Be sure you have contact information on each teen’s parent. Make sure guests and their parents understand that if a teen leaves the party, he won’t be allowed to return and parents will be called. Make sure parents who won’t be chaperoning know the start and end times of the party and will prearrange transportation. Collect all keys so you can keep track of who is arriving and leaving. Keep coats and purses in an area that can be monitored. Speak to each person before he leaves; check for warning signs of impairment. If a guest arrives at the party already under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, keep him there while you call a parent to pick him up. If he leaves and someone is hurt or injured, you could be held responsible.

When your teen spends the night at a friend’s house or goes to a party, call the hosting parent to find out the details. Make sure the hosting parent shares your concerns about the availability of alcohol and that none will be permitted. Ask how much supervision will be provided. Volunteer to chaperone and provide transportation. Let your teen know that you will not approve any outing without sufficient notice so you can speak to the hosting parent first. If your teen will be riding anywhere, at any time, with a friend, make sure it is with someone whose parents do not permit the use of alcohol. Teens are at great risk when riding with other teens, even under the best of circumstances. Talk to your teen about a back-up plan in case something goes wrong.

When your teen is going out for a special event, have her make a record of the planned itinerary for the evening and make sure she agrees to inform you of any changes. Be alert to spontaneous changes in plans on the night of the event; your teen won’t have as much control over the situation if it takes place in an unfamiliar location and/or with people she doesn’t know well. In the excitement of the evening, she could end up in a risky situation before she realizes what is happening.

Create a code with your teen so he can signal for help without attracting the attention of friends. If you don’t know how to text, ask your teen to give you a few lessons; texting is a much easier way for you to communicate than via phone. When you arrive to pick up your teen, he can blame you for having to leave or you can give the excuse of a “family emergency.” Make an agreement that if you do have to pick him up, a discussion about the reason can be tabled until the next morning, when you and your teen are both calm and safe. Otherwise, your teen may avoid calling you for help because he doesn’t want you to know about the circumstances that required the ride home.

And, last but certainly not least, realize that your teen is vulnerable to making poor choices every day. Don’t let your guard down. Finding a balance between being too controlling and allowing too much freedom will require constant effort, but it is a worthwhile endeavor. Your teen’s health and happiness may depend on it.

Three most dangerous cities for teens

Top 3 Most Dangerous Cities for Teen Drivers are in Florida

Two studies, one by Allstate Insurance Company and the other by Reader’s Digest, indicate that geography plays a part in teens’ risk of injury and death in motor vehicle crashes. And because of their age group, teens are already at great risk. The number one killer of American teens is motor vehicle crashes; one study shows that the problem is particularly serious in Florida. Every year, over 5,000 people aged 16-20 are killed in motor vehicle collisions, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The ten riskiest cities out of the 50 largest urban areas in the US were selected using statistics from the national Census Bureau, federal crash data, and company claims information on teen passenger vehicle collisions. The most dangerous US cities for teen drivers are Southern, with the top three in Florida. Of the top 50 cities in the country for teen fatality crashes, Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Orlando/Kissimmee, and Jacksonville rank number one, two and three, respectively.

The analysis by Reader’s Digest categorizes states according to their current Graduated Driver’s Licensing (GDL), seat belt, and Driving Under the Influence (DUI) laws. According to the study, Alaska, California and Delaware rank as the top three; three of the worst states include North Dakota, Mississippi and Arkansas. Florida is categorized as “Fair,” the next-to-lowest ranking. Interestingly, California cities also scored high in the Allstate study: San Francisco/Oakland, San Jose, and Los Angeles were numbers one, two, and four.

Factors that contribute to teen motor vehicle crashes include:

  • Speeding/driving too fast for conditions -Driver distraction, including cell phone use and dealing with passengers -Inexperience -Driving at night -Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (including prescription and over-the-counter drugs)
  • Teens also often neglect to wear their seat belts, increasing the risk of serious injury or death in a crash. An observational study by the Utah Department of Health found that the teen seat belt use rate falls when other high-risk factors are present, such as when teens drive under the influence of alcohol, drive at night, have multiple teen passengers, or are driving without a driver’s license.

The risk factors listed above, including seat belt requirements, are addressed by GDL laws in many states. Before advancing to the next phase of licensure, young drivers must show progress by complying with specific restrictions. Driver education was a part of the curriculum in 90% of US high schools during the 1980s; in 2009, only 20% do. GDL laws are of increasing significance in the effort to reduce teen crash rates, because teens get most of their driver training from their parents and are often subject only to state requirements after licensure.

While a national model for GDL laws has existed since the mid-1990s, no state follows all of the requirements. To show the disparities among states, The National Safety Commission (TNSC) analyzed the GDL laws in four states: California, Florida, Mississippi, and North Dakota.

The study showed that:
  • The minimum age for a learner’s permit in California is 15 years, six months; the minimum age is 15 in Florida and Mississippi. In North Dakota, the minimum age is 14.
  • While California and Florida each require 50 hours of practice driving with a parent or guardian in the learner’s permit stage, 10 hours of which must be at night, neither Mississippi nor North Dakota require parental certification of any driving practice hours.
  • North Dakota does not have any passenger or nighttime restrictions, and Florida and Mississippi have only nighttime restrictions. California’s passenger restriction is that for the first 12 months, the restricted driver may have no passengers younger than 20, with limited exceptions for immediate family.

Comprehensive GDL laws reduce deaths among 16-year-old drivers by 38%, according to a study by Johns Hopkins University for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety; the Reader’s Digest study also supported the idea that better GDL laws mean that fewer teens will die in motor vehicle crashes. However, TNSC points out that parents must actively participate in their teens’ driver education by enforcing GDL laws as house rules, rather than leaving the issue to law enforcement. The possibility of legal consequences for teens who don’t abide by their state’s GDL laws should serve as support for parental restrictions, not take the place of them.

Risky driving behavior

Teens and Motor Vehicle Crashes

The tragedy occurred on the last day before summer vacation. An SUV transporting a group of teens to the beach rolled over after a tire blowout. In the aftermath, four teens died, four were hospitalized, and the teen driver faced criminal charges.

Almost everyone knows a distressing story like this one; deaths of teens due to motor vehicle crashes are often well-publicized amid great community sympathy for the loss of young lives and the potential they held, as well as the devastation of surviving parents and friends. And they speak to a larger statistical reality – that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15- to 20-year-olds, according to the National Center for Health Statistics – that much of America seems to be both aware of, but unsure of how to change.

Consider the following statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):

  • There were 202.8 million licensed drivers in the United States in 2006 (2007 data not available). Young drivers between 15 and 20 years old accounted for 6.4 percent (13.0 million) of the total, a 7.2-percent increase from the 12.1 million young drivers in 1996.
  • In 2007, 13 percent (6,982) of all drivers involved in fatal crashes (55,681) were young drivers age 15 to 20 years old, and 15 percent (1,631,000) of all drivers involved in police-reported crashes (10,524,000) were young drivers.
  • In 2007, 3,174 15- to 20-year-old drivers were killed and an additional 252,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes.
  • Among 15- to 20-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2007, 31 percent of the drivers who were killed had been drinking.
  • In 2007, 64 percent of the young drivers of passenger vehicles involved in fatal crashes who had been drinking were unrestrained. Of the young drivers who had been drinking and were killed in crashes, 75 percent were unrestrained. -During 2007, 35 percent of the motorcycle riders between 15 and 20 years old who were fatally injured in crashes were not wearing helmets.

In addition to mistakes made while driving, teens are susceptible to other lapses in judgment concerning motor vehicles that can lead to injury or death, such as car surfing. According to Science Daily, the states with the highest car-surfing fatality rates are California, Florida, and Texas; all three states have shown an increase in car-surfing deaths since 2000.

Though these three states show high levels of risky teen behavior concerning motor vehicles, a study conducted by Allstate Insurance Company indicated that rural areas have much higher rates of fatal motor vehicle crashes involving teen drivers than metropolitan areas; consequently, states with large rural areas have the highest rates of fatal crashes involving teen drivers. These states are:

    • Mississippi
    • Alabama
    • Kentucky
    • Missouri
    • Arkansas

Nationally, Allstate’s research showed, fatal crash rates for teens were more than twice as high in rural areas than in metropolitan areas.

While considerable attention is paid to the issue of drunk driving among teens, law enforcement agencies report that speeding is the leading cause of motor vehicle crashes involving teen drivers. Allstate’s study found that law enforcement identified speeding as a factor in 34% of motor crashes nationwide, while alcohol was cited in just 12% of crashes.

In addition to the risk teens take when driving or when riding in a vehicle with other teens, teens suffer when a member of their peer group dies in a motor vehicle crash, particularly when they suffer multiple losses from crashes such as the example at the beginning of this article. Because of the feeling of invincibility that is characteristic of this age group, teens typically have not considered the deaths of people their age a possibility, so when such a thing occurs, their world may seem to be crashing down around them. This means that even teens who were not particularly close to the person who died can be stunned by their reaction to it. Due to their level of psychological maturity, teens are ill-equipped to understand the grieving process and may be overwhelmed by feelings of being out-of-control, insecure, and scared, in addition to sorrow and grief. They may descend into melancholy that lasts years, greatly affecting their development. Some teens numb their feelings by participating in high-risk activities such as:

    • Alcohol and drug abuse
    • Reckless sexual activity
    • Withdrawal from family and friends
    • Taking risks involving motor vehicles

Depending on the loss, some teens experience a change in their circle of friends. Obviously, this can have positive or negative results, but regardless, it is another change in a rapidly changing world for the teen. Teens who lose friends to death may see their grades drop and their focus change as they struggle to fit into a new group of friends at a time when they feel especially vulnerable.

Parents and other authority figures can help teens channel their grief in healthier ways by:

    • Being available to listen – not, necessarily, to talk
    • Allowing teens the freedom to process their grief with others, such as friends, extended family, and professional counselors
    • Encouraging teens to express themselves through writing, drawing, and memorializing their deceased friends
    • Realizing that the teens’ mourning process may be prolonged and letting teens know that there is no timetable for grief

Though the federal government, state governments, and community-based organizations are making efforts to reduce the number of teens who die in motor vehicle crashes, the statistics above indicate that there is still much work to be done. Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have three-stage Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) programs in which restricted licenses are issued to beginning teen drivers, with the restrictions reduced over time. However, no state has incorporated all of the GDL components recommended by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the National Transportation Safety Board, and NHTSA.

State-level programs that include peer-to-peer teaching and learning about driver safety are effective in reducing teen motor vehicle crash rates. Texas’ Teens in the Driver Seat is one such program; teen crash deaths have dropped 32% and the number of teen drivers involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes is down 33% since the program began. A similar program in Illinois called Operation Teen Safe Driving has helped achieve a 10% reduction in teen motor vehicle fatalities in Illinois during the first seven months of 2009. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) and other advocacy groups sponsor many public education campaigns to persuade teens not to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

How Active Participation Helps Teens Understand Safe Driving Concepts

Most adults understand that teens tend to tune out long lectures about safe driving (or anything else), but parents and teachers also know that they have important messages to pass on, and they are sometimes at a loss as to other methods of doing so. Creative thinking in terms of teaching methods, both in the home and at school, can mean the difference between messages that teens will ignore versus those they will integrate into their driving behavior. This is so important with driving; motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Obviously, lectures aren’t working.

Recently, First Coast News of Jacksonville, FL profiled four teenagers who had created a Public Service Announcement (PSA) to promote safe driving. The PSA shows a teen driving while listening to music, eating, and using a cell phone to talk and text; she eventually glances at the road just in time to see that it’s too late to avoid a motor vehicle crash.

Reporters quizzed the teens on whether or not they’d ever performed any of these unsafe driving behaviors. The teens admitted to doing so but also said that making the PSA had heightened their awareness of how dangerous these behaviors are, which had caused them to curb the behavior. The teens said that creating the PSA had made the consequences of distracted driving, such as getting into a crash and being seriously injured, seem real. This is more of an accomplishment than one might think; teens’ brains are not biologically developed enough for them to control impulses and understand the consequences of their behavior, which is why convincing them to drive safely is such an uphill battle.

Another benefit of this type of active participation is that these teens became positive role models for their peers, influencing them to drive more safely. Peer pressure is a reality that must not be ignored; many teens perform more (both in intensity and in number) risky driving behaviors when they are accompanied by teen passengers. Whether the teen driver is bowing to external pressure from friends or internal pressure to show off, the effect is the same. The key is not to try to convince teens to disregard peer pressure, an almost impossible task, but to convert the peer pressure into a positive influence.

Making the PSA also had the effect of helping these teens take responsibility for their driving behavior. Again, this is typically a difficult task. Teens have a variety of sources, legitimate and irrational, to blame for their poor choices; reaching maturity means accepting responsibility for their decisions and the attendant consequences, along with realizing that they are the ones who make the ultimate decision to be safe drivers.

Listening to a lecture is a passive process; making a PSA is an active process because it forces the teen to engage with and think about safe driving concepts. Of course, having every teen in America make a PSA about safe driving would be a logistical nightmare, and due to teens’ short attention spans, the experience would soon wear thin. But the concept of having teens participate in an active learning process about safe driving could be utilized in every household and in every school.

Before assigning an active-participation project to teens, consider their interests. Most teens love music, popular television shows, being with friends, and talking about themselves. Most teens are self-conscious about their appearance and are interested in grooming, clothes, and accessories. Many teens also have a special hobby, such as gaming, art, computers, writing, or sports. Many are also interested in exploring new ideas – the perfect time to let them get creative with how to disseminate safe driving messages. Ideas include:

  • Designing a poster or series of posters
  • Writing a song, using computer software to write accompanying music
  • Writing an episode of their favorite television show
  • Performing a skit with friends
  • Giving their own “presidential address”
  • Designing a clothing/accessory line
  • Creating a video game

To avoid boredom, vary the topics assigned to the teen, but for maximum benefit, assign topics that relate to common teen driving mistakes, such as:

To further engage their critical thinking skills, have teens present their messages from other points of view. For example, teens who are interested in politics can give a presidential address about enacting laws to lower teen deaths in motor vehicle crashes; teens who are interested in sports can create an advertising campaign showing how drinking and drugs can impair athletic ability. Until the project is finished, try to provide encouragement and support without too much assistance; let teens follow the research and learning process to its logical conclusion.

Helping teens engage in an active learning process regarding safe driving behavior is a requirement for reducing the teen death rate on our nation’s roadways.

Driver Education: How Cough Medicine Affects Driving

Many parents who warn their teens repeatedly not to use illegal drugs are unaware of the temptation and risk posed by over-the-counter medications such as cough medicine. But cough medicine provides an inexpensive, easily accessible high to one out of 11 teens, according to the Partnership for a Drug-free America. And teens are often ignorant of or in denial about the risks posed by over-the-counter medicines which, they reason, are safe and legal. A 2008 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study indicated that only 45% of teens think taking cough medicine to get high is hazardous. Teens may not consider that though dextromethorphan (DXM) is safe to take in the recommended 15-to 30-milligram dose, they are likely to consume 360 milligrams or more in the effort to get high.

The effects of overdosing on DXM include:

    • Confusion
    • Impaired judgment
    • Blurred vision
    • Slurred speech
    • Dizziness
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Excessive sweating
    • Loss of motor control
    • Dissociative (out-of-body) sensations
    • Paranoia
    • Hallucinations
    • Irregular heartbeat
    • Loss of consciousness
    • Seizures
    • Brain damage
    • Death

The situation becomes even more dangerous when teens abuse drugs they believe are safe and then get behind the wheel. To make matters worse, many teens who experiment with using cough medicine to get high do so when they are already under the influence of another drug, such as alcohol. This intensifies the effects, and, of course, makes driving riskier.

Information on how to abuse DXM is readily available on the internet and via teens’ friends, so parents must counteract it with information of their own – and with vigilance. Here are some tips for parents:

  • Familiarize yourself with the basics of cough medicine abuse. Words to watch for (on your teen’s internet history) and listen for include Dex, DXM, Robo, Robo-ing, Robo- tripping, Skittles, Skittling, Syrup, Triple-C, and Tussin. DXM is found in syrups, lozenges, tablets, capsules, and gel caps labeled DM, cough suppressant, or tuss, or include the word “tuss” in the name.
  • Include discussions about the risks of abusing over-the-counter drugs in your regular talks with your teen. Explain the difference between therapeutic dosages and overdosing, as well as the effects. Tell your teen that you want to know whenever they need to take any medication for any reason.
  • Lock your medicine cabinet or keep medicines that contain DXM in a location that isn’t accessible to your teen. Keep track of how much medicine is in each container. Avoid buying multiples of medicines that contain DXM; doing so can be tempting to teens, and also makes it more difficult for you to keep track of the total amount of medicine in your household.
  • Observe your teen, your teen’s bedroom and bathroom, and recreational areas carefully for medicinal smells and empty cough medicine containers.