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Parent Alert: New Deadly Threat

Posted Oct 30 2010 3:30am
Guest Post by Roger McIntire, Ph.D.

Epidemic hits high schoolers!
Death rate quadruples among 16-year-olds!
No immunity in sight.
Medical community has no vaccine that will help.

All your efforts to protect your teen from childhood diseases, accidents with sharp objects and running with scissors pale to almost nothing.

Is it a virus? A cancer? A new mind-splitting drug?

No. It’s cars.

A study by Ezekiel Emanuel and David Wendler from the National Institutes of Health shows that daily hospitalizations and emergency room visits remain low among children. Then the daily death rate, which is steady at 1 per million per day in childhood, skyrockets to 10 per million per day for teens.

Everything that we do to protect our kids by using car seats and seat belts, lecturing about looking both ways and following the rules is overwhelmed and swept aside by the shocking statistics of driving and riding with reckless friends.

Not long ago boys were at a greater risk of injury and death from car-related accidents, but recently girls have closed the gap and are now at almost the same risk level as the boys. For example, in 1990, 160 of every 1000 girls wrecked their cars but by 2000 the number had risen to 175 per thousand. Boys stayed at a steady rate of 210 per 1000 per year over the same period.

Nothing else you have done, or do, to protect your teen during their growing-up years means as much as your riding and driving rules.

Now a new threat has entered the teen driving scene. With one hand on the wheel, attention is often focused on the other hand holding a cell phone complete with a keypad with keys barely the size of a grain of rice. Cell phones are taking teens’ attention away from the main task at hand.

In a national study conducted by Pew Research, they found that 30 percent of teens surveyed send over 100 messages each day, and that only 22 percent send less than 10 messages per day.

So how do parents make an impression upon their teenager that many young people just like them are dying behind the wheel of their cars every day? It is a serious discussion every parent and teen must have -- frequently.

The trick for parents is to keep the flood of shocked reactions in check and yet remain a good listener. Whatever your comment, the first filter in your teenager’s mind is “What are you saying about me?” Parents often say to me, “He takes things so personally.” So first of all, keep the subject on a third person basis as much as possible. Use “it” and “what” instead of “you.”

Also avoid the “quick fix” temptation:
  • The real subject may not have come up yet. “Why don’t you...” “You should try...” “Don’t be so...” all have the potential of closing a conversation.
  • They also indicate a superior position and may put off your teenager.
  • If you tell me you had trouble getting to work, and I tell you to try another route and start earlier, you would think, “What nerve!” You just wanted to gripe a little, and I turned it into a driving lesson!
Keep listening skills handy. Maintain good eye contact and avoid shrugs and postures that say you don’t agree or are not paying attention – there’s more to conversation than what is said and heard. Watch your signals: folding your arms, getting louder, and turning away all have their messages.

Put down your TV remote, and all other hand-held devices. A “talking ritual” with your teen driver can help you keep up with what’s going on. You need good listening skills to keep the conversation flowing.

Saying, “Be careful” is not enough. Limitations and restrictions need to be enforced. You need to know where and with whom your teen is riding. You need to ride with them whenever possible to judge their driving skills. Make sure they know they can call you for a ride home anytime -- no questions asked.

You don’t want that terrible late-night phone call, “This is Officer Smith of the State Police, your son (daughter) has been...”

Roger McIntire, Ph.D., author of Raising Your Teenager: 5 Crucial Skills for Moms and Dads, Raising Good Kids in Tough Times and four other parenting books ( www.ParentSuccess.com ), is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Maryland, where he taught for 32 years. McIntire also shares his wisdom in a Martinsburg Journal (WV) column and at behavior.org, the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies’s website.
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