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8 Critical Tips on Teen Drinking and Driving

By Dr. Michele Borba

1. Set Clear Rules Against Drinking

A study of over 1000 teens found that teens with “hands on” parents who establish clear behavior expectations, monitor their teens comings and goings, and aren’t afraid to say no are four times less likely to engage in risky behaviors like drinking and driving. Teens also say they will be more cautious about drinking and driving if they know you are serious and will follow through with punishments. Feel free to be strict without feeling guilty. It makes no difference whether your teen has a driver’s license nor a car—peers do. So stress one rule: “NEVER ever drink and drive.”

2. Put a No Drinking and Driving Rule in Writing

Have your teen sign a contract to never drink and drive. Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) www.saddonline.com provides a free online contract to download. It may help them pause just the second needed to not get behind that wheel. Stress to your teen that drinking and driving—either as the driver or passenger—means an automatic loss of his or her driving license. Then make a pact: if your teen calls for a ride, he can keep that license. Also, let him know you will be monitoring. (Waiting at the front door when he comes home is a great technique. Then give him a quick check: a hug (smell for liquor); check eyes for redness; ask how the party was (check speech patterns); and look for gum or mints (to reduce alcohol smell).

3. Form an Alliance With Other Parents

A survey by The Partnership for a Drug-Free America and the "MetLife Foundation Attitude Tracking Study found that the place where teens are most likely to encounter drugs and alcohol is at parties and other social situations. While not shocking, what is, is that teens say that many parties are not adult supervised and in some cases it's the adults who are the suppliers. (Ninety-nine percent of parents say they would not serve alcohol at their kid’s party; but 28% of teens say they have been at supervised parties where alcohol is available). A Survey by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia also found that half of teens who attend parties say alcohol, drugs or both are available though 80 percent of parents believe teens attend substance-free parties.

  • Know your teen’s friends and their parents. Make a pack to monitor each other’s kids and pledge that there will be no unsupervised parties.
  • Make a rule that you call any parent hosting a party to assure supervision.  Doing so helps you find other parents share rules, which helps when your teen says, “You’re the only parent with those rules” – you can beg to differ.

4. Create a Secret Code with Your Teen

Teens say that losing face with peers is a big reason they don’t call for help. “I couldn’t call you. My friends would hear!” So create a text code like “1-1-1” or a phrase such as “I’m getting the flu” so your teen can save face and still alert you that he needs a designated driver and rescue.

  • Earn your teen’s trust. Promise that you’ll pick up your teen with no questions asked. Many teens admit having a code with their parents but don’t use it because their parents don’t follow through on their “no questions asked” pledge and discipline them instead. If you want your teen to call, earn their trust.
  • Pass your code on to one trusted adult. Also make a pack with a trusted adult that if you’re not available, your teen knows he can call that person for help.
  • Have emergency backup plans. Give your teen a card with phone numbers of taxicab services and money in a drawer and tell your teen to use in case of an emergency. Doing so does not mean you are giving your approval to drink but you understand that peer pressure is tough and in case something comes up, your teen is prepared and knows how to get a safe ride home.

5. Don’t Make Liquor Available

Teens admit getting alcohol is easy-and the easiest place to get it is in their home. The second easiest place is in their friends’ homes.

  • Lock up your liquor supply. Don’t tell your teen where the key is! Count those liquor bottles.
  • Watch your credit card. The hot place teens buy alcohol is on the Internet.
  • Admonish an older sibling to not be the supplier.

6. Create a Safety Net for Special Occasions

Prom and Grad Night are teen occasions when alcohol is more prevalent and drunk driving accidents peak. Get on board with the school and other parents to reduce the likelihood of drinking and driving to keep teens safer.

  • Set up a Safe Rides program in your community.
  • Designate other peers, older siblings or younger class as drivers who do not drink.
  • Consider hiring a limo for a group of teens who are going to an event together.
  • Don’t let your teen rent a hotel room after an event. Limit the amount of driving.

7. Develop Peer Comebacks with Your Teen

Peer pressure is fierce, and teens say those “Just say no” type lines don’t work. So help your adolescent create lines to use with peers that let her save face and buck the pressure: “My dad will take away my license.” “I don’t need a ride-my friend is coming.” “My mom will ground me for life—and she always finds out.”

8. Teach “Sneaky” Ways Not to Drink

The truth is the party scene is on and your teen will be faced with the “Do you want a drink?” question from a peer. If your kid can’t say no (and let’s be clear…it’s a rare kid who can…), then teach sneaky ways to avoid drinking and save face. Take the drink-but don’t sip it. Take the drink-but leave it. Take the drink-then take it to the bathroom and pour it down the sink and fill the glass with water.  Those tricks will also help your teen navigate those college parties where alcohol is flowing even more

If teens are at your home, you are responsible for their safety and well-being. Be at the door when they leave. Tell them you will wait up and be at the door when they return. Ensure that they are safe to drive. If you have just an ounce of doubt, take their keys and you the driver. Now go talk to your teen. And then talk again and again and again. And don’t forget teens get their views about alcohol from watching. Be the example you want your teen to follow.

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Dr. Michele Borba is a TODAY Show contributor, author, parenting expert and educational consultant. For more about her work see MicheleBorba.com or follow her on twitter @MicheleBorba