Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Two Tragedies and the Teachable Moment

In the last week there have been two terrible tragedies which took the lives of 11 teenagers (details here and here).  In the injury prevention business, this is called the "teachable moment" when the details of the tragedy are horrible enough and immediate enough to grab the attention of the public.  My condolences go out to all of the families involved and while everyone has done stupid stuff in their lives ("there but for the grace of God go I" most of us can say), here are some safety reminders now that Spring Break, prom season, and summer are coming up (and yes, I know that you can tell your teenagers stuff until you are blue and they still may only follow what you say about 25% of the time):

  • Get your kids into the habit of using a seat belt every time they get in the car so that it becomes a habit.
  • Know where your kids are (verify, verify, verify...some of the kids who died in these wrecks told their parents they were staying with a friend while the friend told his parents they were doing the same thing which resulted in the kids being able to roam around all night unsupervised).
  • Do not allow your kids to ride in a car with a teenage driver (driver error is way more common with young, inexperienced drivers).
  • Teens under 18 years old, living under your roof and your rules have no business wandering around in the early hours of the morning.  Going out for a movie? Fine. Coming back at midnight from work? Fine. Going to an unspecified party until all hours of the night/morning? No way.
  • Make sure your kids can call you at anytime for a ride home, no questions asked.
  • Do not allow your licensed teenage driver to drive with more than one other person in the car (driver distraction is another common cause of wrecks and other kids are distracting).
  • Any teenage driver who has had ANY drug or alcohol issues should not be given access to a car.
  • Keep your kids so busy that they don't have time to get into trouble (if kids don't have anything to do they will roam around finding others who have nothing to do and eventually someone will have a bright idea to do something exceedingly stupid which all of the other kids will gladly follow along with, thus ensuring a bad outcome for all).
  • Lecture/talk to your kids often about what they should and shouldn't do and why.  They will ignore/tune out most of it but eventually it will soak into their thick heads.
  • Make your home the gathering place for kids (when our kids were young all of their friends hung out at our house which was just fine.  I was happy to feed and shelter and entertain--I think Nintendo was popular then--all of our kid's friends because while it was a hassle and expensive and marginally disruptive, it was better than the alternative which was not knowing what they are doing or with whom).
  • Put the fear of God in your kids at a young age.  I don't mean beat or brutalize your kids but discipline is important and it should be appropriate, immediate, and consistent.  And it needs to start when they are a toddler, not when they are a teenager.
  • While I am all for adults evading/avoiding surveillance in their everyday lives, this is not the case with kids.  They should have no expectation of privacy when it comes to their interactions with others.  Their diary should be private, their Facebook messages aren't.  Their room should be private (unless there is probable cause) but their cell phones (and GPS location) aren't.  Ditto for their computers (where they are interacting online with others) and the way they drive (when they are on the road with the public).
For the record, I am happy to say that our kids turned into responsible hard-working, home-owning, family-supporting citizens.  They didn't always follow the rules.  They did get into situations that could have easily ended in as deadly a fashion as the kids in the articles above.  There were times that they did things so wisely and responsibly that I was stunned (and there were times that they did things so stupid that I was equally stunned).  The bottom line is to do as much as you can to ensure your kids make it through their teenage years with as few scars as possible.  You aren't their friend, you aren't their buddy, you are the person guiding them into adulthood.  And one of these days you will be shocked to hear them talking to their kids exactly like you talked to them.  

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