Coaching the Kids

I am a competitor. I love to compete and I love football, so why would I not be excited about this time of year? While I originally joined the high school cheerleading squad for its ability to improve my social status, what resulted was a great love of the football experience. The fresh smell of the crisp fall air, the stadium lights that shone down on what was often a very muddy field—it was heaven on earth.  

I loved putting on my uniform and screaming at the top of my lungs for those sweaty-headed boys that were just trying to make our town proud. After dancing at halftime to the latest Bell Biv DeVoe track and jumping and running from one end of the sideline to the other, I would wrap up the evening with a delicious meal of cheap nacho cheese poured artfully over tortilla chip rounds, and an ice cold fountain drink. Ahhh…those were the days, right?    

The large and very loud crowds (I mean, what else was there to do on a Friday night?) would drink in every ounce of sweet victories and suffer through the vicious sting of defeats. In high school, my team celebrated a State Championship and in college, my team was completely defeated. Regardless the outcome of the season, one thing remained the same…we couldn’t wait for it to start back up again.  

Well, now the game has changed and the stakes are way higher. I am now blissfully married, with two precious daughters. My thirteen-year-old is already talking about getting her driver’s permit next year. I have no idea how we got here. The truth is, thirteen years passed by quickly. I have become consumed with the same revolving thoughts: 1) how did we get here so fast, and 2) how in the world do I equip her for what’s ahead?

In the insurance industry, the subject of teen driver safety comes up quite often. We try very hard to educate parents and new drivers on the many ways we can help them build their driving skills (and maybe just earn an insurance discount, too). There are websites and mobile apps with tons of advice, tools, and checklists to give parents and teens more confidence on the road. 

Funny though, none of that has made me feel any better about putting my baby behind the wheel of a car. I have been driving for nearly thirty years and I still have close calls and near misses.  Driving is a lifelong lesson. I worry about the pressures our young people face on a daily basis.  These days, there is a lot of attention surrounding texting and driving. I agree, it is a huge scary issue, but it is driving under the influence that scares me the most. Having lost a good friend to such a tragedy, I feel compelled to include it in this text.  

No matter how often or how well parents convey the message to young drivers about the dangers of driving under the influence, some teens are still not getting the message! Over 1/3 of teens still drink some alcohol, and 1 out of 5 get into a car with someone who has been drinking, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2019 Youth Behavior Survey. Those are terrifying statistics.

So how can you encourage your young adults to have fun and stay safe during the back to school celebrations (and ordinary days)? Try these tips.

Talk to other parents. Connect with them about parties, gatherings, and which teens are driving together. Then, share information and strategy for getting everyone home safe. As fun as Prom is, it may be a particularly difficult time for teens to resist risky behavior: according to research by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), nearly half of teens said friends pressured them to experiment with drugs and alcohol during Prom. 

Let your kids know they can call you for a ride—no matter what. Remind them that motor vehicle crashes are the most common form of fatal accidents for people ages 16–19. You will pick them up no matter where and no matter what time.  

Limit the number of passengers. More people in the car equals a higher risk of fatal crashes according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Some States limit the number of passengers a driver under the age of 18 may have, so check your state laws.  

Remember, your kids are watching you…all of the time. Set a good example with your non-distracted, always-seat-belted driving.  

Monitor your kids’ sleep. Tired kids may not be the best decision makers, either behind the wheel or when confronted with difficult decisions. I can’t drive when I haven’t rested well the night before. We have to be mindful of this when it comes to our teens.

Maintain a zero-tolerance alcohol and drugs policy. Your kids are listening to you and honest conversations may have the intended effect (even if you get the eye rolling). According to a MADD survey, parents who stress that drinking is not acceptable raise teens who are 80% less likely to drink than those with more relaxed parents.

Keep talking—no matter what. Don’t frame it as a lecture, but talk to your kids about what they’d do in certain situations. Ask them if there are friends who struggle with safe driving behaviors and frame example situations and solutions.

We’ve all spent years on the road, so we know that every trip we take is a chance to learn and improve. But your teens? They may believe a license is all the learning they need. It isn’t. They need practice, they need resources, and they need you.