Editorial: With proms ahead, its time to broach a touchy subject

Apr. 24, 2014 @ 11:06 PM

We all like to think our kids are different. Special somehow. Honest to a fault. Obedient at all times.

In reality, however, kids are kids — prone to mistakes, immature judgment and, yes, occasional disobedience.

Teenagers may begin to have the physical build of an adult, but their minds haven't fully developed, especially in the areas of responsibility and the consequences of risky behavior.

Just last year, Discovery News reported on a University of Texas study on the topic.

"Scientists found that the adolescent brain is extra sensitive to the rewarding signals it gets when something better than expected happens," the news agency reported. "The discovery might help explain why teens take risks that don't seem worth it to adults, from driving too fast to experimenting with drugs.

"Teenagers seek out these sorts of rewarding experiences, and this provides a little explanation for that," said Russell Poldrack, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Texas, Austin. "In the long run, it may help us understand how addictions start and develop."

That's why, with prom season coming up at several local high schools, its a great time to have a horribly uncomfortable talk about driving under the influence.

"My child would never do that," you might be saying. "In fact, he'd never even drink, let alone drink and drive."

That's obviously what everyone wants to believe, but actually believing it is a step down a dangerous path.

Even the best of kids can be tempted and pressured into doing things they wouldn't ordinarily do.

And if they do, they'll be highly unlikely to call home if help was needed.

According to a survey by AAA, 84 percent of teens indicate their peers "would be likely to drive under the influence instead of calling their parents for help, because they were afraid of getting in trouble for drinking underage."

Underage drinking shouldn't be condoned, obviously, but the thought that teens would endanger themselves and others to avoid trouble at home is startling, if entirely believable.

AAA has a suggestion for parents: Talk to your teens about alcohol and driving, and make the AAA PROMise.

"AAA PROMise reinforces the parent-teen relationship by fostering a predetermined agreement, or promise, that the teen will avoid drinking and driving," AAA said in a press release. "The parent promises to calmly recognize that if their teen calls needing help, they have made the mature decision to avoid a potentially deadly situation by taking action to not get behind the wheel or be a passenger of a driver who has been drinking."

The promise and materials on the program are available at AAA.com/PROMise. 

For most parents, making such a pact with a child could be difficult.

For some, it might seem like giving their child an "out" to partake in forbidden behavior.

But for others — when one phone call home could have meant the difference between life and death — it's a promise they can only wish they'd made.