California is lots of sun and fun—and teens love to party. Here’s how to keep them safe.
California isn’t all sun and fun—but California teens definitely know how to have a good time. There’s a reason why the “California girl” and “surfer guy” are the epitome of teen movies and TV shows and why that’s the reality for the nearly 2.5 million teens aged 15 to 19 who live in the Golden State.
And while most parents of teens want their kids to enjoy the best life has to offer, we also want our kids to be safe. However, teens are known for occasionally failing to heed their parents’ warnings or follow their parents’ rules. They also like to take risks, and some believe they’re invincible.
Unfortunately, the sad reality is that this can sometimes lead to tragedy and a family’s unimaginable loss. Teen drinking and driving is a serious issue, but there are things parents and educators can do to help prevent a loss in your family or community.
Why do teens take risks?
The UCLA Center for the Developing Adolescent reports that it’s not only developmentally appropriate for teens to take risks and try new things, but it actually benefits them later in life. Although a parent might discourage risk-taking by their teens, it actually helps a teen to learn appropriate, safe, adaptive behaviors for their adult lives.
While you might think you can teach your child to avoid certain risks, there’s actually a scientific, biological reason behind their doing so. Our brains release a chemical neurotransmitter called dopamine. An adolescent brain releases more dopamine than children or older adults, which means they’re more sensitive to rewards and good feelings that result from surprises and new experiences. Dopamine is released when a person takes a risk or is calculating a likely outcome of a situation, and this amplified learning actually increases connections between neural systems in the brain.
Not every teen is seeking a “dopamine high,” but in general, teens are more interested in new experiences and adventures because they get a greater emotional reward. This isn’t all bad, though. Increased Dopamine can also lead to better attention and cognitive control, which means teens can sometimes perform certain cognitive tasks better than adults.
The 2nd reason why teens might be likely to take risks is because of their friends. This isn’t all bad, either—and your teen’s friends might be great kids, but research has shown that a teen is more likely to take a risk when they believe they are being observed by their peers. However, that doesn’t always translate to risks like driving unsafely or drinking. In fact, this is often how teens engage in activism, stand up for causes, or act with bravery in the face of a bully or negative situation. (source)
However, even though we know that there are real, biological reasons why a teen might be more likely than adults to take certain risks, it doesn’t mean that drinking and driving or other unsafe behaviors are a foregone conclusion. Educating teens about the specific risks of drinking and driving, speeding, failing to wear a seat belt, and other unsafe behaviors can help them avoid a tragic mistake.
Strategies for preventing teen drunk driving
There’s more than one school of thought on preventing drunk driving.
Some parents and educators believe it’s best to encourage teens not to drink at all. That’s the messaging from the well-known organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). The group focuses on preventing teen drinking, which, of course, would lead to reduced drinking and driving.
But some parents believe that telling their kids not to drink at all will just cause their teens to drink secretly, raising the risk that they’ll drive drunk because they don’t want their parents to know they were drinking. These parents might offer “controlled drinking” or allow teens to drink at home or in certain circumstances as long as they promise not to drive.
There can be both health and social risks to teens who drink, even if it’s with a parent’s knowledge and consent. In California, an adult can be held liable for providing alcohol to a minor if someone is injured or killed as a result.
Regardless of what strategy you employ, communication with your teen is essential.
10 ways a parent can help curb teen drinking and driving tragedies
- Don’t serve alcohol to minors.
- Help your teen find alternate transportation for special events, like proms or parties, by acquiring a party bus or limo or offering to drive them.
- Set a curfew.
- If you have alcohol in the home, make sure to set clear rules for your teens about how it is handled (and not to touch it when you’re not home).
- Ask questions! Find out where your teen is going, with whom, and who is driving.
- Model good behavior—never drink and drive.
- Reach out to your teen’s friends’ parents. Align with other parents to make sure there aren’t unsupervised parties.
- Make sure your teen knows it’s not just about their driving—but about being a passenger, too. Educate them to never get into a car with a driver who has been drinking.
- Let your teen know they can call you at any hour of the day or night if they need a safe ride home—no judgment, no consequences—you just want them to stay safe.
- Communicate your expectations to your child, and encourage them to ask questions and share their concerns. You can share your concerns with them, too.
10 tips for teens to stay safe on the roads
- For events like proms, parties, graduation, or other events, you can plan ahead to travel by party bus, charter, or coordinated carpools with a designated driver.
- If you plan to drink, plan for a designated driver—someone who will not consume any alcohol.
- Avoid drinking. The best way to ensure that no driver becomes intoxicated is to party without alcohol. You can still have fun while staying sober (and you’ll feel better and remember more the next day, too!).
- If you intend to drink, give a trusted friend your keys so you’re not tempted to drive.
- If you’re 21, don’t purchase alcohol for someone who is underage.
- Know who you can call for a safe ride home—parents, other trusted adults, or a sober friend.
- Always wear your seat belt and follow general safety precautions when behind the wheel or riding as a passenger.
- Don’t ride in a car with a drunk driver. If you’re unsure if the driver has been drinking, err on the safe side and find another ride.
- Be a good samaritan; if a friend has been drinking, take their keys or don’t allow them to drive.
- If you’re drinking, do so in moderation even if you’re not planning to drive. Drinking impairs your ability to make good judgments and decisions about anything, not just driving.
What to do if your teen is involved in an accident
If your child causes an accident, there could be both criminal and civil liability, depending on the circumstances.
If your child is the victim of an accident, there is help available. Certainly, the 1st priority is to handle your child’s medical needs and make sure they receive the necessary treatment following an accident. You might also wish to consider how their mental health is affected by a traumatic event.
But you also want to be sure that the accident-related costs are covered. A hospital stay, ongoing treatment, continuing therapies and other expenses can add up—fast. California is an at-fault state, which means the person whose negligence caused the accident is responsible for the financial costs of the accident for all parties.
California is also a pure comparative negligence state, which means that if the victim had any role in causing their own injury, their damages could be reduced by their percentage of fault. For instance, if your teen willingly was a passenger in a car where the driver was drunk or known to drive recklessly, or in many other circumstances, you might not be able to recover the full amount.
That is why you need to contact the team at MVP Accident Attorneys as soon as possible after an accident. We’ll work to make sure that your family can be compensated for damages to the full extent that the law allows. We don’t want to see a young life ruined over an accident, and we’ll do our best to reach full compensation for all of you.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.