How to Talk to your Teen Driver about Drugs and Alcohol. Really.

As we near National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week, here are some tips to help.

January 18, 2019

Here’s a question all parents have to reckon with eventually: how do I talk to my teen driver about drugs and alcohol and actually get them to listen?

It can be hard enough to teach your teen to drive safely, but this is an issue many parents may worry about getting right. As we near National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week, we want to help you handle this conversation with your teen and make the message stick. Here are some tips to help.

Be honest

The biggest disadvantage teen drivers have on the road is their lack of experience; they simply don’t always know what to do or how to react to stay safe. Driving while calm, focused and clear-headed can help, but impairment of any form can make it much riskier. That’s why, though it may be intimidating, the best way to address the risks of impairment is to talk frequently and honestly about them.

This includes risks from alcohol, drugs and even fatigue. Does your teen know, for example, that some over-the-counter drugs can result in impairment?

With so little experience behind the wheel, it can be difficult for your teen to understand how dangerous impaired driving really is. This is why parents have to anticipate these risks and prepare for them. Rather than ignore this issue or assume your teen would never drive while impaired, educate your teen on the facts. At the same time, make it clear that if they ever feel they cannot drive safely, you are always available to pick them up. Consequences can be decided later, but your teen can’t take back the decision to drive while impaired.

Be strict

Still, zero-tolerance laws exist for a reason. Even for experienced, adult drivers, impairment begins with the first use of any potentially impairing substance and there should be no wiggle room on this point. Emphasize this rule in your New Driver Deal and make it clear that it is never safe to ride with an impaired driver, either.

To get your teen on board, these rules need to apply to you, as well. If you ever drive while impaired, even if it is from fatigue or prescription medications, it can give your teen the idea that this is okay in certain circumstances. But if you commit to staying strict on this issue, there will be no room for negotiation.

Simplify the message

It may not seem simple, but it doesn’t have to be terribly complicated. The safest strategy for any driver—especially teens—is to avoid any substance or condition that leads to impaired driving, including legal drugs and a lack of sleep.

Teach your teen to get in the habit of reading the labels on over-the-counter medications and to pay attention to warnings about drowsiness or impairment while operating a vehicle. And help them make a habit of paying attention to the driver anytime they are a passenger. Drivers are not always the best judges of their ability to drive, but as passengers, we know when we feel unsafe. Your teen should feel empowered to speak up in these types of situations and advocate for their own safety. Educating them on the facts will help.

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