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 and sing too loud and drive. In addition, beware of talk and driving! All of these are very real distractions.
Summer, the good time season, is fraught with other potentially dangerous activities as well. Swimming, boating, hanging with friends late at night, picnics on the beach and even more time for Internet surfing. But I’m not advocating we keep our teens so thoroughly programmed that they have no time for leisure fun.
We all need time to relax, decompress and in their words, “chill.” They 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. 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 even learning to leave if you think things have gotten out of hand. 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.
In an attempt to help here are 5 tips for summertime safety:
1. Set expectations. Whether it is 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 time to prove they can handle all the responsibility without the academic deadlines or your needing to nag.
2. 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 at dinner together. 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 they may be fewer rules to abide by.
3. Communicate in their medium. Your teen texts. You should too. It’s how they will find you if they need. What’s more, they can text you without anyone else knowing – critical if they do not want anyone else knowing they have asked for help.
4. 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 to get you.
5. 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, a let them have that well-earned fun as well.
*This post originally appeared on the Silver Hill Hospital website, June 26, 2012.
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Barbara Greenberg and Jennifer Powell-Lunder are authors of the hit book, "Teenage as a Second Language: A Parent's Guide to Becoming Bilingual." They've set up an interactive website for parents and teens to listen, learn and discuss hot topics and daily dilemmas. You can find it at www.talkingteenage.com.