What Are The Warning Signs Your Alabama Teen May Be In Trouble?
In talks I do for parents, I sometimes show a slide with a photograph of a baby taking her first steps. I talk about what I call “the toddler dilemma.” When our children take big developmental steps, we parents are torn between holding them back versus letting them go. Holding them back may keep them safer, but it prevents them from developing the independent skills they need to thrive. Letting them go may help them develop the independence they need but exposes them to danger.
For toddlers, the danger is usually falling down and getting a boo-boo. For teenagers, the risks are much more serious. This is a central, daily dilemma of parenting. Do I hold them back or do I let them go?
Move ahead a few years to a teenager holding car keys. If, God forbid, any of us must endure the death of one of our children, the most likely reason will be a motor vehicle accident. Alabama has always been among the top five states for teen driving fatalities, often number two.
However, nationwide, the rates of fatal crashes involving teen drivers have actually dropped steadily for many years — since about 1975. This is probably due to a combination of factors. Cars are safer. Traffic control and signage systems have generally improved. Raising awareness about drinking and driving seems to have made a difference. From 2008 until 2010, teen driving fatalities fell particularly sharply. This is believed to be related to the economy. In 2010, teen driving-related fatalities, while still the number one killer of teenagers and young adults, were at historic lows.
Unfortunately, preliminary data suggest teen driving death rates rose sharply between 2010 and 2012. The rebound in these rates might be related to the rebound in the economy. For whatever reasons, we might have reached the end of a long period of declining teen driving fatality rates. And, as we see more drivers texting, talking on their phones and experiencing other distractions, I wonder if it is going to get worse in the years to come.
I firmly believe there are measures parents can take to reduce the chances that their children will be involved in automobile accidents. Here are some ideas to consider.
Provide the best training possible. Driving is a highly complex, life-or-death task. Parents should maximize the value of the learner’s permit year by providing as much supervised driving practice as possible, under a range of conditions (day and night, good weather and bad weather). Log the number of hours and aim for a minimum of 50 hours of supervised driving time.
Develop rules and formalize them in a written contract. We do not know if written parent-teen driving contracts keep teen safer. We do have evidence that when parents have rules about driving and enforce them, their teens are less likely to have driving-related accidents. I have offered a free parent-teen driving contract for many years. It is widely used nationwide and is available at parentingteendrivers.com.
Be aware, and make your teenager aware, of the Alabama Graduated Licensing Law. Enhanced in 2010, the law places a curfew on 16-year-old drivers, limits the number of passengers they may have, and outlaws their use of hand-held communication devices while driving.
Be thoughtful about the vehicle your teen drives. In my opinion, a 16-year-old should not have an automobile he or she is allowed to treat as his or her own. A new driver should borrow a family vehicle, perhaps even rotating among different family vehicles, for the first year or so of driving. Only an older teen who has proven his or her commitment to driving safely should be allowed to have a vehicle they treat as their own. Even then, however, parents should focus on the safety of the vehicle, not on its coolness profile. I recommend against giving a teenager a vehicle as a birthday or holiday gift.
We all know that life gives few tragedies worse than the death or disabling injury of young people. Too often, these are preventable. We have to keep a clear head and, as parents, remind ourselves of what is at stake.
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