When my kids were little, I worried about three critical safety factors, which in fact were the top three causes of preventable deaths in children ages 1 to 14:
- Accidental drownings
- Traffic accidents
- Bicycle, skateboard and scooter-related head injuries
My husband believed I was obsessive. He had a point there. My kids wore life jackets at the beach when the waves were rough. They clipped their seatbelts every single time they sat in a car, anyone’s car, and I was meticulous about whose car they got into. Heaven forbid they got near a bike or a Big Wheel without strapping on a helmet. Never happened.
This was the only area I acted like a true helicopter parent. Otherwise, my kids lived the good life. They watched TV and ate ice cream til they got their fill. I rarely checked homework or bugged them about practicing the piano, which was easy since none of them ever played the piano. To this day, my kids have never eaten a brussel sprout.
My vigilance about kid safety – plus a lot of luck – paid off. Among the three kids, we’ve had only one broken bone over the course of 15 years.
Now my two oldest are teens. The risk factors have changed. The biggest one is easy to spot: kids and cars. The facts are simple: car crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers 16 to 19.
I am just as vigilant now as I was ten years ago when I put on those toddler life jackets at Main Beach in East Hampton. After getting my kids safely to adolescence, I’m not going to toss them the car keys, any more than I would have dropped them into the deep end of the Volta Park pool before they knew how to dog paddle.
Here’s what I’ve learned about teens and driving risks:
- Nearly one million high school students each year admit to driving after drinking alcohol.
- Teens crash four times more often than older drivers.
- Teen brains have trouble multitasking – as a result, talking to friends, listening to the radio and texting while driving dramatically increase their risk of crashing.
- Teenage drivers’ risk of a crash increases 44 percent with one teenage passenger; the danger quadruples with three or more passengers.
- Two-thirds of teenage passenger deaths happen in a car driven by another teenager.
- Teenage car accidents increase at night.
Pretty convincing, don’t you think? There is good news, though; pretty darn good news, actually. Due to greater awareness, and the relentless efforts of helicopter parents across the nation, since 1988, U.S. childhood deaths due to unintentional injuries have decreased an amazing 53%. Drunk driving among teenagers is down 54% since 1991.
I’d really like my three kids to add to these positive stats. So I’m back to square one, turning into Police Mama in my own family, just when I thought we could all be friends and sing Kumbaya together.
No driving after sundown. No driving with anyone but Mom or Dad in the car. No getting into a car with a friend who recently got his or her license. No phones or radio music in automobiles. And most definitely, no drinking (whether they are driving or not).
No. No. And no.
Now if I can just find where I put those old life-jackets and helmets, maybe I can get my kids to wear them in the car.