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3 Ways to Save Your Teen’s Life

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We love our children more than life itself, so fear strikes us every time we hear those stories about their peers, or a child at their school who meets with tragic circumstances.

We know there are endless risks in the world, but when it comes to teenagers, three major behavioral areas present the greatest risk. If you, as a parent, can create boundaries that discourage poor decision-making in these areas, you may just save your teen’s life.

1. Drug and Alcohol Use. Not only does drug and alcohol use present a clear physical danger in and of itself, but intoxication lowers your teen’s normal inhibitions, leading to risk-taking and bad choices in other dangerous areas. Some key points to remember:

  • Substance abuse is a contributing factor in over 60% of accidental teen deaths.
  • While some parents worry more about harder drugs and think of alcohol as “just drinking,” alcohol is responsible for more teen deaths than all other drugs combined.
  • Almost all of the major causes of teen death—including motor vehicle crashes, suicides, homicides, and accidental injuries—are linked to drug and alcohol use.

What you can do: Talk about the risks, make connections to your families values, make it clear that drug and alcohol use will not be tolerated, and discuss what the consequences will be. Create boundaries that keep your child out of environments where drugs and alcohol are a temptation. Teach them strategies for escaping pressure situations where others may be urging them to use.

2. Driving Behaviors. When your child is behind the wheel, she is in control of thousands of pounds of steel moving at a high rate of speed, and must be able to watch out for other drivers. The facts:

  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of accidental deaths among teens.
  • Among the fatal teen crashes, more than a third were caused by teens who drank before they drove.
  • Another 20-25% of crash deaths resulted from drug use, or riding in the car, with a drunk driver.
  • According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, teens are more likely to be involved in crashes caused by:
  • speeding/racing
  • drug and alcohol use
  • distracted driving, with friends in the car being the greatest distraction

What you can do: Make sure your child understands that driving is a privilege—not a right—and that failure to comply with your rules for driving (see our Teen Driving Contract) will result in the loss of the privilege.

3. Teen Sex. Much has been written about the most obvious risks of teenage sex: pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. But another serious risk lurks in the shadow of this risky behavior—depression, loss of self-esteem, and regret.

  • A 1991 study in Pediatrics found that the attempted suicide rate for sexually experienced girls between the ages of 12 and 16 was six times higher than it was for girls that age who were virgins.
  • A study presented at a meeting of the American Public Health Association found that teens are over-estimating how many of their friends are sexually active. Why does this matter? Teens who think their friends are having sex are 2.5 times more likely to do the same.
  • In a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers found that the earlier a girl was when she first had intercourse, the greater her risk of suicide attempts, alcohol use, drug abuse, truancy, and pregnancy.

What you can do: Make sure that your teen understands that most of their peers—a little over half—are not having sex, regardless of what they say. Therefore, they won’t be alone in their decision to wait. Be detailed in your discussions of the risks, both physical and emotional, and create boundaries that keep your teen out of situations where sex can easily happen.

Sources: Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research (CeSAR) at Children’s Hospital Boston; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Psychology Today


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