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You might be certain that your teen never drives under the influence of alcohol or drugs. But can you say the same about the teens your child rides with?

A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health reports that 28% of high school seniors either drove under the influence in the past two weeks or rode with someone they know was under the influence. Driving after smoking marijuana has increased substantially over the past three years.

Over 17,000 high school seniors are surveyed every year as part of a long-term research project sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Clearly, this organization has a vested interest in finding high levels of usage among teens. However, the disturbing level of use – over a quarter of respondents or their friends – and the large scale of the study should make parents sit up and take notice.

Boys are more likely than girls to report driving after drinking or using marijuana or other drugs. But boys and girls report equally riding in a car driven by a friend they know had used alcohol or other substances recently enough to be impaired. These findings were the same across all economic levels and geographic locations.

You cannot chaperone your teen every moment. Even if your child doesn’t drive, his friends may and you are powerless to keep your child from riding along. Part of growing up includes evaluating situations and making good decisions. Kids have to have opportunities to do this.

At the same time, you want your teen to be safe. So do this:

Automobile accidents continue to be a huge risk for teens, forming the number one cause of death. Help your child – and your child’s friends – to stay safe!


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

A new study by a Penn State researcher found that talking with a teen about drinking alcohol before they begin college is an effective strategy to moderate college drinking. However, the time to have this conversation is well before she goes away to school in the fall. Now is the time…

According to Dr. Robert Turrisi, “Over 90 percent of teens try alcohol outside the home before they graduate from high school.” This dabbling can become serious once a child is away from home, however. Binge drinking is epidemic on college campuses. Yet, says Turrisi, “It is well known that fewer problems develop for every year that heavy drinking is delayed.” You can delay or even inhibit your child’s engagement with binge drinking by having a serious talk about alcohol now.

A study conducted at Penn State involved 1,900 incoming freshmen and their parents. Each of these high school students was identified as being a nondrinker, a weekend light drinker, or already a weekend heavy drinker and or an everyday heavy drinker. The parents of these students were instructed to talk with their teens about drinking at one of three points in time: during the summer before starting college, during the summer and then again in the fall of the student’s first semester at college, or only in the fall of the first semester.

Because it is known that college students tend to drink more than they did at home, regardless of their beginning level of consumption, any slowing of this progression as a result of the parents’ conversations about drinking would demonstrate the positive effect of this plan. But this study showed more than just a slowing. When parents talked to their teens over the summer, teens who were non-drinkers or light drinkers were likely to remain in those groups and teens who were heavy drinkers drank less.

Teens whose parents waited until their children were heading off to school in the fall or timed the conversation for some time during the fall semester were likely to drink more.

The first thing to take away from this study is the fact that even teens who do not drink and who have been taught from childhood not to drink will likely drink once they are away at school and enmeshed in college culture. It’s important to expect this and to have a conversation with your teen about drinking.

But the second thing to take away is that waiting to have this conversation until the end of the summer is not the best strategy. Talk with your teen now, while there is time for your message to sink in before the excitement of college gets in the way.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

Poor little Justin Bieber is just the latest in a long string of kids whose bad behavior was aided and abetted by mom and dad. According to one source, young Bieber’s recent drunken race through Miami Beach was helped along by his father, who reportedly supplied him with drugs and alcohol and knew ahead of time about the intention to drag race but did nothing to stop it.

No one got killed, thank goodness, unlike the time Adam Lanza’s mother made certain her son had access to guns and knew how to shoot them. Numerous other parents in the news either professed to not know anything at all about their children’s slide into erratic and dangerous behavior or actively supported that behavior in ways that seem irresponsible in hindsight. We more sensible folks are left scratching our heads, wondering how parents can be so clueless.

At the same time, in less dramatic ways, many of us are making exactly the same mistake.

Your kid isn’t likely to make the 11 o’clock news. But lots of parents enable all sorts of bad behavior. You know at least one parent who…

Perhaps that parent is even you.

How our children know right from wrong is shaped by the little things, day by day. Just as in everything else, actions speak louder than words, louder than our lectures and warnings, louder than Sunday morning sermons. Children understand what we really expect of them and what the real rules are by what behavior we encourage, condone and overlook.

Your child will tell you that “everybody does it.” Certainly every teen makes mistakes. Justin Bieber’s behavior, unfortunately, wasn’t so unusual that it would have made the national news if he himself hadn’t been newsworthy already. The problem comes when parents join in or look the other way. Yes, everybody does make mistakes. But, no, not every parent passes this off as “just nothing.” In fact, no parent should.

Just as our children’s behavior is shaped by little things, so are our communities. If we want to complain or gossip about the misdeeds of other people’s children, wail about how society is going downhill because of irresponsible parents, we must look first in the mirror. Are we one of them?


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.