You do greatly influence your teen when it comes to safety, but peer pressure also plays a large part. Teens may want to do the right thing, but they don’t want to seem different or be embarrassed by not going with the flow. You can help by taking the blame – for the rules they have to follow to drive (or ride in) a car. Sometimes they need an excuse to get out of difficult situations, such as saying “no thanks” to a ride from a new teen driver. Let them use you as an “out” by complaining, “I can’t ride with you because you just got your license. My parents would ground me.” They’ll stay safe while saving face with friends.
Another great way to help your teen get out of unsafe or uncomfortable situations is to create a “code word” or phrase that means “come pick me up.” The two of you agree on a code phrase like “I lost my backpack” or “I have a test next week.” Your teen will only say the phrase when necessary, such as when asked to get into a car with someone who has been drinking or when riding with someone who is speeding or texting. When you hear the word or phrase, pick your child up right away. Remember, the code word is in place for safety, not to criticize your teen’s judgment. If you overreact, your teen may not reach out to you again.
Here’s an example of the code word in action:
- Your teenage daughter is a passenger and feels unsafe (driver is speeding or intoxicated). She calls you, complaining to her friends about checking in with her demanding parents.
- She casually slips in the code word to inform you she is in trouble and needs you, such as “walking the dog.” You loudly answer so her friends will hear: “What do you mean by checking in now? GET HOME RIGHT THIS MINUTE!”
- If she can get home safely, she’ll hang up, complaining to friends that you have once again ruined her life.
- If she can’t get home safely, she’ll say: “WHAT? I have to come home now? I don’t have to listen to you.” This means she needs you to come and get her.
- When she is safely home, praise her for using her head to get out of trouble. Don’t punish her for getting into the situation. Instead, discuss strategies for avoiding similar scenarios in the future. Create a new code word to use if needed in the future.