Talking to teens can make a difference

Thursday, April 22, 2010

As local teens begin celebrating end-of-the year events, such as prom and graduation, many area school districts, law enforcement agencies and community organizations are stepping up efforts to remind students about the dangers of drinking and driving. For instance, Cassville Community 2000 partnered with Cassville High School to bring the Save a Life Tour to the local school, emergency medical technicians from Cox have volunteered to organize drunk driving docudrama events in Washburn and Wheaton, Southwest COED (Coalition of Excellent Decision Makers) will host a town hall meeting in Washburn this month and the Cassville Police Department and Barry County Sheriff's Department have participated in the "You Drink and Drive. You Lose" Campaign.

According to a recent study conducted by Liberty Mutual Life Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), 90 percent of teens believe their peers are more likely to drink and drive on prom night and 79 percent believe their peers are more likely to drink and drive on graduation night. Unfortunately, only around 25 percent of teens believe that drinking and driving on prom or graduation night comes with a high degree of danger.

Even though teens do not see the dangers of their actions, statistics prove that those dangers do exist. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that there were 380 teen alcohol-related traffic deaths between April and June in 2007. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there were 1,009 teen fatalities during the same months in 2008.

Studies show that parents often contribute to teen alcohol use. Around 36 percent of teens have reported that their parents have allowed them to attend parties where it is known that alcohol will be served. Even more surprisingly, 14 percent of teens say that their parents have hosted teen gatherings where alcohol is served. In addition to the fact that hosting these types of parties is illegal, parents must remember that the examples they set for their children today will influence those teens many years into the future.

Research shows that teens who have regular conversations with their parents about driving safely are less likely to drink and drive or speed and are more likely to wear a seat belt. Yet the study recently conducted by SADD and Liberty Mutual indicates that 22 percent of teens say that their parents have either never talked to them about drinking or driving or only had one conversation with them about the dangers of alcohol.

Even though it is wonderful to know that local school districts and community organizations are interested in combating teen alcohol abuse and drinking and driving, parents should remember that they are their children's best teachers. I encourage area parents who have not had a conversation with their teens about drinking and driving to do so as soon as possible. Parents who have talked to their children about these dangers should consider talking to their children about the issue again. Information about talking with teens about drinking and driving, safe driving agreements and driving ground rules for prom and graduation can be found on-line at www.sadd.org.

Docudramas, town hall meetings and drinking and driving campaigns can only go so far to educate teens. Although parents cannot control the decisions their children make during prom and graduation celebrations, they can strive to give teens valuable information to help them make positive choices when faced with these decisions.

Lindsay Reed