In this monthly column, therapists from North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center answer your questions on issues related to parenting, mental health and children’s well-being. To submit a question, email NSCFGCexperts@gmail.com.
Question: We think our son might be engaging in unsafe driving behavior. The other night, he came home from being out with a friend and we could smell beer on his breath. Worse, he’d been the driver. What can we do?
Dear Nassau Parents: You have reason to be concerned. The statistics are frightening: More teens die from motor vehicle crashes than any other cause of death, and teen drivers are 17 times more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash when they have alcohol in their system as opposed to when they are sober.
The same holds true for marijuana and other drugs. A report from Liberty Mutual and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) found that one in five teens admit driving under the influence of marijuana, and one in four say they would take a ride from a driver impaired by alcohol or prescription drugs.
While many adults make foolish decisions about driving when they’ve been drinking, teenagers are even more susceptible to feeling like they’re safe to drive even when intoxicated. Their brains are still developing, and they tend to behave more impulsively, especially when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Plus, when they do consume alcohol, teens are more likely to binge drink than adults.
While the good news is that drinking and driving among U.S. teens has gone down by more than half since 1991, they still drive after drinking an average of 2.4 million times a month.
As a parent, you play a crucial role in your teen’s choices, even though sometimes it might not feel that way. Some ways you can encourage safe driving include:
- Make a driving contract with your teen that agrees upon zero tolerance for drinking alcohol or using drugs when driving.
- Tell them that getting in a car with anyone who has been drinking or using substances is never OK.
- Promise you will pick them up if they end up in that circumstance.
- Insist upon a “no texting while driving” rule—or their phones will be taken away.
- Require seat belt wearing for both the front and back seats, even for a short trip.
- Consider limiting nighttime driving, especially if your teen is a new driver.
- Be a good role model: Follow all the rules of the road and never drink and drive.
Question: I hear about all the things people are accomplishing with their pandemic “down time,” but I feel more stressed than ever, since I’m working at home and have two kids who are in remote schooling part of the time. Am I being too hard on myself?
—Tired All the Time
Dear Tired: In a word, yes! Despite the fact that Shakespeare purportedly wrote King Lear during a pandemic, he surely didn’t have kids pulling on his cloak and asking for help with homework.
The stresses brought on by the COVID-19 crisis have been overwhelming. Please give yourself a break! You don’t need to master crocheting or learn a new language right now. And don’t forget to take care of yourself while you’re focusing on everyone else’s needs. Whatever it is that soothes you—yoga, a warm bath, some time on Netflix—put it in your schedule. And ask for help, whether from your spouse, friend or another person who cares about you. You won’t be a good parent if you are burned out.
During the pandemic, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center is seeing clients remotely via telehealth platforms or, when deemed necessary, in person. To make an appointment, call us at (516) 626-1971 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.