9 Ways to Curb Teen Drinking and Driving Dangers

by | Jan 8, 2014 | Peer Pressure, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions

Parenting advice I shared on the Dateline special, “The Perils of Parenting” to help reduce risky teen drinking and driving behaviors that might even save your teen’s life! See also my post, 11 Driving Tips That May Save Your Teen’s Life

Would your kid get in the car with a drunk driver? You won’t believe what most teens do…

This year I had the pleasure of working as the parenting expert with Kate Snow and Dateline producers on a unique special for parents called, “The Perils of Parenting.” Let’s face it, the issues facing our kids these days are tough. Producers were hoping parents could get a Reality Check on just how tough today’s teen scene is as well.

For three days we filmed scenarios included “plugged-in” behaviors, bullying, stranger danger and drinking and driving. In each case, Pparents were asked how they thought their kids would respond to each situation, and then watched on hidden camera-without their kid’s awareness-what their child really did.

The majority of parents were shocked and mortified with their children’s responses. “I can’t believe he did that!” “Why did she do that!” “I told him over and over to never do that!””She knows better!” were their typical responses.

So now the key question.. how do you think your child would respond? Would your son or daughter heed your warnings, adhere to your rules and values when they think you’re not there? “Don’t be too sure,” would be my response.

Imagine you and your teen are part of this scene…

You drop your teen off to what you both think is a casting call for a reality show and are escorted to a room with the other parents. A woman suddenly comes in to introduce herself as a producer from NBC’s Dateline explaining that they’re really doing a special about the dangers of teen drinking and driving.

Hidden cameras will film your unsuspecting kid with an actor who is to play the role of a drunken drinker. He tells your kid that he’s been drinking. Your kid can smell the alcohol on his breath (though he really hasn’t had a drop), sees that the driver is clearly unfit to drive (and even admits later that he believed that the actor consumed alcohol).

You watch the scene live on a monitor reminding yourself that you’ve told your teen repeatedly to never get into a car with a drunk driver and the dangers.

So now the question:

Will your teen get into that car knowing the driver has been drinking?

Are you sure?

Dateline filmed the scene again and again while the parents watched.

Each and every time every single teen got into the car with a driver who they thought was drunk.

Every teen also got into the car when the actor took his “drunken role” up a notch appearing unable to walk and clearly unfit to drive.

And each and every time the parent voiced complete and total disbelief.

The harsh lesson: Don’t be too sure your teen won’t do the same.

Underage drinking is a growing problem. The mix of drinking and driving are lethal. Add peer pressure and that “urge to fit in” and you have a toxic combo. Here are tips that could save your teen’s life that I offered Dateline.

9 Parenting Tips That Could Save Your Teen’s Life

Review these skills with your teen. PLEASE! Teen drinking and driving is one parenting peril we cannot ignore.

1. Be a good “drinking” model

A recent study found that adolescents whose parents were authoritative (rank high is discipline, monitoring, support and warmth) were less likely to drink heavily than adolescents whose parents were authoritarian, indulgent or neglectful.

If you’re not an example of responsible behavior don’t expect your kid to act responsibly. Your teen is watching. Be the example you want your teen to catch.

2. Start early and talk often

It makes no difference that your child does not have a driver’s license let alone a car. Now is the time to stress one emphatic rule: “NEVER ever drink and drive.” Talk to your kid about the dangers of drinking and driving. And then keep talking! Research shows that a close parental relationship with teens is a powerful way to reduce risky behaviors.  

3. Don’t make liquor available

Teens admit getting alcohol is easy-and the easiest place to get it is in their home. Adults are the general suppliers..the parent, the friend’s parent or a convenient liquor stash that is left unattended. So….

Count those liquor bottles.

Lock up your liquor supply. Don’t tell your teen where the key is!

Watch your credit card: the hottest new place kids buy alcohol is on the Internet.

And admonish an older sibling to not be the supplier.

4. Be strict

A study of over 1000 teens found that teens with “hands on” parents who establish clear behavior expectations, monitor their comings and goings, and aren’t afraid to say no are four times less likely to engage in risky behaviors like drinking and driving.

5. Put it in writing

Have your teen sign a contract to never drink and drive. Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) www.saddonline.com provides a free online contract to download. It may help them pause just the second they need to not get behind that wheel.!

Stress to your teen that drinking and driving—either as the driver or passenger—means an automatic lose of his or her driving license.

Teen’s say they will be more cautious if they know you are serious and will follow through.

Teens also say that fear of parental punishment is a big reason they don’t call.

So make a pact: if your teen calls for a ride, he can keep that license.

6. Develop comebacks with your teen

Peer pressure is fierce, and teens say those “Just say no” type lines don’t work. So help your adolescent create lines to use to with peers that let her save face and buck the pressure:

“My dad will take away my license.”

“I don’t need a ride-my friend is coming.”

“My mom will ground me for life—and she always finds out.”

Also, teach your teen “sneaky” ways not to drink. The truth is the party scene is on and your teen will be faced with the “Do you want a drink?” question from a peer. If your kid can’t say no (and let’s be clear…it’s a rare kid who can…think back to that Dateline special), then teach sneaky ways to avoid drinking: Take the drink-but don’t sip it. Take the drink-but leave it. Take the drink-then take it to the bathroom and pour it down the sink and fill the glass with water.

7. Invent a secret code

Teens say that losing face with peers is a big reason they don’t call for help. “I couldn’t call you. My friends would hear!” So create a text code like “1-1-1” or a phrase such as “I’m getting the flu” so your teen can save face and still alert you that needs rescue. Then promise that you’ll pick her up with no questions asked.

8. Create “just in case” backups

Every teen got in the car! Peer pressure is tough. So set up a backup system with your teen. Doing so does not mean you are giving your approval to drink. It means that you understand the teen scene and “just in case” something comes up your teen is prepared and knows how to get a safe ride home.

Give your teen a card with phone numbers of taxicab services.

Put emergency money in a drawer and tell your teen to use it “Just in case you ever need a taxi cab.”

Make a pack with a trusted adult that if you’re not available, your teen knows he can call her for help.

Set up the Safe Rides program at your community.

Get teens to designate other peers as drivers who do not drink.

If teens are at your home, you are responsible for their safety and well being. Be at the door when they leave. Ensure that they are safe to drive. If you have just an ounce of doubt, TAKE THEIR KEYS and give them a ride home. Just do something!

9. Get on board with other parents

Know your teen’s friends and their parents. Call any parent hosting a party to ensure they’re really supervising those parties. Just tell your teen that is your rule! Be the parent!

And do not serve liquor to an underage child.

Ninety-nine percent of parents say they would not serve alcohol at their kid’s party; 28% of teens say they have been at supervised parties where alcohol is available.

Ninety-eight percent of parents say they’re present, but 33% of teens say parents are rarely or never at teen parties.

My girlfriend knew teens and the teen scene. When she finally had a party for her teen daughter’s graduation it was with one caveat: NO LIQUOR. She also knew teens can be crafty and find ingenious ways to make liquor available so she hired the school security guard to watch her drive way and the kids. Turned out not only to be a liquor-free party but also a safe one. The kids said they appreciated having that guard in the driveway (who knew the kids and watched out for them).

Last Words

A billboard on the 10 freeway has a huge post: “DON’T SERVE TEENS!” Maybe we need to duplicate copies of that warning and post it on every mailbox in America and on our refrigerators. The goal here is one thing: keep our teens safe–our sons and daughters and their friends.

Now go talk to your teen. And then talk again and again and again.

Dr. Michele Borba, Parenting Expert

I am an educational psychologist, parenting expert, TODAY show contributor and author of 22 books.

You can also refer to my daily blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Check for ongoing parenting solutions and late-breaking news about child development.

Follow me on twitter @MicheleBorba

You can also find dozens more research-based and practical tips in my latest book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions.Tips from this blog were adapted from the chapter Drinking and Peer Pressure.


B. Hendrick, “Binge Drinking Less Likely in Teens With Strict, Supportive Parents, Study Says,” WebMD Health News, June 25, 2010.

CASA 2000 Teen Survey: Teens with “Hands-off” Parents at Four Times Great Risk of Smoking, Drinking and Using Illegal Drugs as Teens With “Hands-On Parents,” Columbia News, retrieved May 19, 2007, http://www.columbia.edu/cu/news/01/02/CASA_survey.html.

D. Leinwand, “Survey: Parents Clueless on Booze, Drugs At Teen Parties,” USA Today, Aug 17, 2006, p. 8A.