Parenting In Focus: Cars, brains and wrecks

  • Wednesday, March 3, 2021 1:30am
  • Life

We all know that many teens are very good drivers. Yet car crashes kill more teens than any other cause.

Every time you add one passenger to your teen’s car, you increase the likelihood that he will be distracted and have a wreck. The cell phone is another distraction that is behind the possibility of a wreck. Teens are three times more likely to have a crash than older drivers and three times more likely to die in one. These are disturbing numbers and cannot be taken lightly.

Why? We used to think that the brain was at its highest level by age 18. Now we know this is not true. The brain of an adolescent is not fully developed, especially the area of making decisions. This means that risk taking or thrill seeking behavior of adolescents make them especially vulnerable.

Researchers from UCLA and the National Institute of Health say that while puberty begins earlier, at about age 13, the brain’s reasoning center doesn’t reach maturity until the mid-20s. We need to protect our teens by remembering that teenagers’ brains are not broken — they’re still under construction.

Parents need to alter how they teach their teen about driving. For example, just because your teen has his driver’s license does not mean you just turn over the car keys and forget it. From time to time, be sure to drive with him or her to make sure your child is driving as you would hope.

While this article talks mostly about the driving of boys, that does not mean girls are better drivers. They too get on their phone or pay attention to the passengers in the car. They, too, have wrecks.

Just because your teen is now legally old enough to have a license to drive doesn’t mean you immediately make a car available to him. That might be what he would like but that would be a mistake.

Stay involved

Plan on driving regularly with your teen. Pay attention to how fast and how well he is driving. Any time you find him ignoring your instructions, take the car away from his control. If he ignores what you tell him when you are with him, you can be sure he will ignore your instructions when he is alone.

Be sure to point out what he does really safely. When he is changing lanes does he check for other cars and does he signal. You do not want all of your comments about his driving to be negative.

It used to be that parents worried about their teen driving while playing music in the car. Today we have more to worry about when we give a car key to our 16-year-old. We need to worry about his being on the cell-phone, text messaging, driving with a cup of coffee, talking to a friend in the passenger seat, eating a hamburger, and changing stations at the same time.

Talk with your teen about safety and your worries. Talk about how quickly someone’s life is changed when they have an accident. Even talk with him about insurance.

Think ahead about what your teen’s driving means to you financially. Think about insurance costs for you, car upkeep, and the cost of gas. Having a new driver in the family has some good things and it has some important other things to consider.

Have a plan in mind how you will handle these issues.

Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. For more information, email to or call 360-681-2250.

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