By Kristin Varela on February 23, 2012
Just when I think I have this whole parenting thing figured out, the game changes. With my oldest daughter preparing for middle school next year, I feel like I have a pretty firm grip on the perils of upper elementary: limiting the amount of makeup worn to school (lip gloss and mascara only) and teaching my daughter how to be responsible with her first cell phone.
What I'm not prepared for is the reality that marijuana use is at an all-time high among eighth- to 12th-grade students and that one in five teens admits to have driven after smoking marijuana, according to a teen driving study released by Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions).
While parents seem to have done a fairly thorough job instilling in our kids the importance of not driving after drinking alcohol -- only 13 percent of teens have driven while under the influence of alcohol -- apparently we've been slacking off a bit on relaying the dangers of driving after smoking pot. Nineteen percent of teens have driven while high, the study says.
Teens appear to have become desensitized to the dangers of marijuana over recent years. Seventy-eight percent of teens described their marijuana use as "very" or "extremely" distracting to their driving, according to a 2009 study. However, in the most recent study two years later, the percentage of teens who felt that level of concern declined to 70 percent.
In light of these findings, we obviously have our work cut out for us as parents, but it should be pointed out that teens in this age group are highly affected by peer pressure. Ninety percent of the teens in the study said they would stop driving under the influence of marijuana if asked to do so by a friend. While we can start talking to our children early on about abstaining from drugs and alcohol -- and, even more importantly, about the life-and-death consequences of getting behind the wheel while under the influence -- we also need to encourage our kids to talk to their friends about these issues. Apparently, a friend with enough courage to speak up is motivation enough to keep a teen from driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and it can save lives.
What other steps parents take to help ensure our teens' safety in cars as they experiment their way through adolescence?
Although it's a while out for us yet, I plan to use my daughter's Nearparent network to give her an easy out. This app on her phone allows her to press a single button and send an alert to every parent, step-parent and grandparent in her preapproved network. We can see where she is on a map, and which one of us is the closest "nearparent." That person can then send a reply that he or she is on the way to help out.
What other plans have you and your family implemented to help keep your teen and his or her friends from succumbing to the temptation of driving while under the influence? Share your ideas with other parents in the comments section below.
Senior Family Editor Kristin Varela blends work and family life by driving her three tween-teen girls every which way in test cars. Email Kristin