Here’s a cold, hard fact for the hot days of summer: There are more teen deaths from car accidents on July 4 than any other day of the year. In fact, according to the AAA, the 100 days of summer are the deadliest time of the year for teen drivers.
The reasons why are obvious. They drink and drive, text and drive, turn on the radio, sing too loud and drive, or just talk their passengers while driving. All of these are very real distractions.
Summer, the good time season, is fraught with potentially dangerous activities: swimming, boating, hanging with friends late at night, picnics on the beach, even more time to surf the Internet. But I’m not advocating we keep our teens so thoroughly programmed that they have no time for leisure fun. We all need to relax, decompress and in their words, “chill.” The key is to teach them to be safe and sound while having fun, even if there are no adults around. In other words, we need to teach our teens to act responsibly and be independent.
Allowing teens to become independent can be scary, for us and for them. But it is an essential skill if they are to grow into successful, happy adults who stay out of trouble and make wise decisions.
Sounds simple, but it’s not. Learning to be independent means not succumbing to peer pressure, taking responsibility for your own actions – and even stepping in if you see someone else in harm’s way, and sometimes learning to leave if you think things have gotten out of hand. These suggestions will help both through the growing process.
Set expectations. Be it cleaning their room, walking the dog, getting home by curfew. Right now, they do not have the structure of the school year. It’s the perfect opportunity to prove they can handle all the responsibility without academic deadlines or your nagging.
Keep the lines of communication open. In the summer, there are different things to discuss than during the school year. Don’t forget to sit down together for dinner. Ask questions and listen as they talk about their day. They are looking for cues from you about what you find acceptable in this season where there may be fewer rules to abide by.
Communicate in their medium. Your teen texts. You should too. It’s how they will find you if they need you. What’s more, they can text you without anyone else knowing – critical if they do not want their friends to know they have asked for help.
Talk in code. This is a remarkably effective but underused tip. I know of situations where the teen called home and asked about the dog or cat when what they really wanted was to be picked up. The parent’s answer was simple too: “We are coming. Tell your friends you have to come home. “
Whether it’s telling you they’ve lost a jacket or asking if the weather is about to change, establish some kind of code they can use to ask for help. It has to be something that none of their friends will know is an S.O.S, but you will.
Accept that some mistakes will be made. That is part of the learning process. Be reasonable. That does not mean there will be no ramifications. Obviously, drunken driving or putting someone else in jeopardy requires serious, immediate action. But for one-time offenses, like breaking curfew, they need to trust you will provide a safety net where mistakes will be fairly dealt with. Wait until the morning to discuss what went on the night before. You will both have a clearer head and be able to have a calm, reasonable conversation.
Throughout life, and certainly in college, your teen will be faced with compromising situations where they need to rely on their own common sense. If we have taught them well, they will have the critical evaluation skills needed to make good, clear-headed decisions. The lazy days of summer provide us with a good opportunity to instill a little wisdom, and let them have that well-earned fun as well.
Barbara R. Greenberg, Ph.D.
Silver Hill Hospital
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