Saw a very interesting Dateline NBC this week on the perils of parenting teens. Yes, we all try to be good parents warning our kids about the dangers that lurk all around but Dateline wanted to know if we are effective in getting our message through to them.
Dateline found a group of parents who agreed to let them secretly videotape their kids during a series of typical teen situations—What would they do if they encountered a bully preying on another kid? Would they get into a car with someone they thought had been drinking? Do they really listen when you say “Don’t text while driving?” and, would they open the door to a stranger? I made my fraternal twin sons watch the episode with me as I knew it would contain some great teaching moments. And thanks to Tivo, we were able to stop and start at whim and talk openly about it all.
For us, the key moment in the program was the segment on drinking and driving, and namely, would my kids get into a car with someone they suspected had been drinking? Dateline’s parenting expert, Dr. Michele Borda, claimed that nearly every teen would, and true to form, the honor-student teens on the show DID get in the car with the driver who clearly had too much to drink (he was actually an actor pretending to be drunk). The parents watching it all unfold from another room via hidden cameras were absolutely horrified as they all said they spoke to their teens repeatedly about the dangers of drinking and driving.
My 14-year-old twin boys have just entered high school. Thoughts of them drinking and driving, texting and driving, and just driving in general have more than once kept me awake at night. Yet the research on teenage twins does give me some solace as several published studies have shown that adolescent twins are much better able to stand up to peer pressure particularly when the twins have friends in common than singletons. Teen twins also often have greater difficulty in rejecting their parents’ values, especially if they’ve been reinforced by a cotwin throughout childhood. It seems that twins not only don’t want to disappoint their parents but they also don’t want to let each other down either. Furthermore, there’s strength in numbers–it’s easier to say “no” when someone has your back.
Although this is comforting news for parents of teenage twins, a handful of published studies isn’t enough to keep me from driving the point home with my teen twins—don’t get in a car with anyone who has been drinking.
I asked my twins what they would have done. Would they have gotten in the car? One son looked at me like I was from Mars and gave a resounding, “Of course not!” but the other was truly at a loss of how he would have said “no.” He said he would have been embarrassed to back out and probably would have gotten in the car.
And there in lies the problem with just telling our kids not to get in the car. It’s not enough. We don’t tell them HOW to say “no.” Instead we need to give them “a script,” if you will, something predetermined, even rehearsed, that they can use to “save face,” to avoid the embarrassment of looking like a wimp or baby (my kids’ words, not mine).
Dr. Borda explained that most kids would never call their parents for fear that they might be overheard, so she suggested having your kids text you with a code such as “111,” which means, “Pick me up NOW.” There are other tools that my kids and I thought of together. Using humor was one (“Dude, I’m not getting in the car with you! Hey, instead let’s play, Where’s the Coffee?”) or using an excuse like, “Sorry, I’m meeting Charlie at the 7-11. See you later,” was another.
Finally, have your twins use their relationship and bond to their advantage in getting out of this potentially dangerous situation. They can play Good Cop/Bad Cop, for instance:
Twin A: “Remember last time when we drove home with someone else?”
Twin B: “Oh, yeh. Our Dad said next time he’d take away our licenses. Not gonna chance it, Dude. See ya later.”