Preventing Teen Drinking and Driving

Parenting tips I shared on DATELINE and TODAY Show

Join Natalie Morales and myself Monday at 9am PT/12 pm ET for a live chat about these tips. Go to Google “Hangout” Dateline – and join the chat. 

Giving your kids the keys to a car is one of the scariest moments of parenthood. “Will they make safe choices?” is always a parents’ haunting concern. I was involved with last night’s Dateline special where we watched teens make decisions in what appeared to be potentially dangerous situations.

  • Will they get into a car with a teen they think has been drinking?
  • What about with a driver who says he is high?
  • Which-if any-teen say, “No” to a peer and not get into that car?

And we watched with in horror as the majority of those teens did get into the car with a teen who they clearly thought had been drinking. Unfortunately, other studies find the same results.

A Liberty Mutual/SADD 2011 Teen Driving Report also found these troubling stats:

  • One in five teens admit driving under the influence of marijuana
  • One in four teens say they would take a ride from a drive that was high on marijuana or prescription drugs
  • One in eight teens say driving while impaired by marijuana is not distracting.

While there are no guarantees your teen will drink, research shows there are parenting strategies to lower risky behaviors and boost safety odds. Here are critical tips I shared on Dateline and last week on the TODAY show to boost your teen’s safety and your sanity. These tips are culled from research as well as talking to teens.

1.  Set Clear Rules Against Drinking and Put the Rule in Writing

Teen contract by SADD: Students Against Destructive Decisions

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. Teen’s also say they will be more cautious about drinking and driving if they know you are serious and will follow through. Feel free to be strict without feeling guilty. It makes no difference whether your teen has a driver’s license no a car—peers do. So stress one rule: “NEVER ever drink and drive.”

Have your teen sign a contract to never drink and drive. Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) provides a free online contract to download. It may help them pause just the second they need to not get behind that wheel.

Set strict consequences.Stress to your teen that drinking and driving—either as the driver or passenger—means an automatic lose of his or her driving license. Then make a pact: if your teen calls for a ride, he can keep that license.

2. Let Your Teen Know You Will Monitoring

This sounds obvious but don’t overlook it: teens say if they know you are watching they are less likely to engage in risky behaviors. Of course, they won’t tell you that to your face – but they do tell researchers. So be there. Waiting at the front door when he comes home is a great technique. Then give him a quick check those signs you may miss:

A quick hug to smell for liquor

Check eyes for redness

Check speech patterns: “How was the party?”

Look for a new pattern of gum chewing or mint sucking to reduce alcohol smell

Watch the walk

3. Form an Alliance With Other Parents

A survey by The Partnership for a Drug-Free America and called 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 that teens say that many parties are not adult supervised and in some cases it’s the adults who are the suppliers.

99 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. Also make a pack with a trusted adult that if you’re not available, your teen knows he can call that person for help.

Earn your teen’s trust. Promise that you’ll pick your teen with no questions asked. Many teens admitted to having a code with their parents but don’t use it because their parents didn’t follow through on their “no questions asked” pledge and disciplined 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 if he doesn’t call you.

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. One study at Ultrecht University in The Netherlands of 12 to 15 years olds found that the only parenting factor related to adolescent drinking was the amount of alcohol availability in the home. The amount of liquor the parents drank was not a factor.

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.

Limit the amount of driving. Don’t let your teen rent a hotel room after an event.

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 to 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.”

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. PLEASE!

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 catch.

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

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