Accidents and teenagers go together like vodka and olives. This is because their immature brains have not caught up with their mature bodies, which is a kind way of saying they are stupid. Even the really smart ones, the ones bound for an ivy league education and a prominent career will do dumb things. I was a teenager once, a long, long time ago. When I look back on the bad choices I made – which I will not go into because my niece and my father may be reading this – it amazes me that I survived those hormonal, acne-ridden years. There were times, right before I jumped in a random car with my friends, that it occurred to me I might be doing something foolish, but I quickly dismissed the caution. I was young, we were having fun. What could possibly go wrong? The answer is much.
1. In 2007, unintentional injury was the number one cause of death in 15-24 year olds, killing 15,897 people. Another 9,000+ were lost because of homicide (5,551) and suicide (4,140).
2. Car Accidents – Each year, more than 5,000 young adults between 16 and 20 are killed in car accidents. Teen drivers are at a four time greater risk of getting into a motor vehicle accident. Why? Go back to paragraph 1 – they do stupid things. Teens have the lowest rate of seatbelt use – invincible as they are, tend to drive over the speed limit and tailgate, and are more likely to drive under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
3. Enter Texting – Throw texting on top of that mess, and we have a real recipe for disaster. Grown ups listen up. We are not above making dumb choices. We have all come to rely too heavily on the constant communication our cellphones allow. The text can wait. This goes under the bigger umbrella of Distracted while Driving, which can be as dangerous as driving under the influence, accounting for a large percentage of car accidents resulting in injury and death. In a 2009 survey, almost 50% of teenage drivers admitted they text while driving.
4. Other accidents – While car crashes cause the vast majority of injury and death to teens, there are other risks. Poisoning – including drug overdose, drowning and firearm accidents follow as the next three causes of death in this age group.
5. Teenage Brain – Science has shown the teenage brain is not fully developed. The frontal lobes are not fully connected, they are hard-wired to be more responsive and have stronger habit forming tendencies. Add the immature brain to the increased stress they encounter, and it is shocking they can make it through the week.
There are many organizations whose mission is to make a difference in teen injury and fatality through education. They do good work, but the best thing parents can do is stay vigilant. While teens may do stupid things, they are not dumb. The same things that make their brains vulnerable to addiction, enable them to learn quickly. It has been proven that families who discuss the dangers of drugs and irresponsible driving behavior raise adolescents who exercise more caution. I know it is easy for me to say because my oldest is only ten. Just as I was the perfect parent before I had children, I am now a very wise parent of the teenagers I am yet to have. Still, the evidence supports this – parent, do not peerent. They have enough friends and soon enough, they will be independent adults. It is only a few years away. For now, the fear of punishment and consequences is the single greatest deterrent to the careless, dangerous behavior that can fatally wound any chance of someday enjoying an adult relationship with your child.