Teen Driving Pie ChartNew acronym for me this week: RWDD. It’s “Riding With a Drinking Driver.” Not a drunk one, but someone who has been drinking. Risky at any age, but particularly when it’s high school. But before I get to that lemme acknowledge that texting has changed the lexicon, upped the capacity for quick communication in our lives, and earnestly transformed some of our relationships. Clearly we’re all learning a ton about shortcuts in communication. I think about this in my personal life but also what impact texting and digital technology has on how we deliver health care, how we partner and listen to populations, how we hear the worries of parents and caregivers and how we share what we know. Sometimes it seems we’re just always trying to catch up. I learned all sorts of new teen texting acronyms & idoms last week on CNN that extend past “lol” and “ICYMI” (see: OOTD, KOTD, and smash <– phew). But no one mentioned RWDD.

A study out yesterday in Pediatrics is worth a quick mention to any parent or any adult or any family doc or any pediatrician or any nurse practitioner or any medical assistant or any coach or any teacher that has contact/supervision/leadership/influence with a teen. The study, conducted on middle school students in the Los Angeles area, found that positive beliefs about marijuana at age 12 were predictors of later getting a DUI or RWDD when a new teen driver 4 years later. Translation: middle school is a wild time of transition and the time we should check in about marijuana’s lack of safety and risks associated with alcohol. Researchers conclude that 6th grade is when we should be talking with our tweens, that “positive beliefs and ability to resist marijuana in early adolescence, not actual alcohol and marijuana use, had the strongest association with DUI and RWDD ∼4 years later.”

No question that we send a wildly confusing message about pot to children and teens with our state’s legalization. Most teens think legal = safe and that’s where we’re potentially setting up our teens for big mistakes. Getting high seems fun to teens and it may seem more fun with something that appears to be “safer….”

Middle school is a time of great evolution in thinking. In the above study researchers polled students at the beginning of middle school and at the end. BIG changes happened in regard to substance use perception. For example, at the start of middle school, about 1 in 5 students said they had a “best friend” who drank alcohol. By the end of middle school that number exceeded 1 in 3 students. And while the minority of of students thought marijuana use was common when they started middle school, about 1/3 thought it was prevalent at the end.  In my mind here’s some staggering data (I’m not being dramatic, look for yourself) on why this matters:

5 Things Parents And Teachers Can Do To Help Keep Teens Safe

  1. Say It: No question that letting tweens and teens know driving risks and the upped risk of driving and riding with drinking drivers (RWDD) is important. Studies have found less DUI and less drinking and driving in teens who know their parents disapprove. YOUR VOICE MATTERS AND YOUR VOICE IS INFLUENTIAL no matter how many times you disbelieve it. Teacher, coach, friend of the family or parent. Say something.
  2. Contract: Driving contracts facilitate the conversation around safety and can lay out your zero tolerance policy. Here’s one you can fill out together and print out online.
  3. RWDD: Reshape the language here and make this easy for you teen to succeed. Start using RWDD? Be the totally dorky parent that maybe texts your teen when headed out for the night “no need to ever RWDD.” Help reshape any confusion that drinking isn’t “drunk.” Real risks riding with anyone drinking or smoking weed. Especially in early drivers.
  4. Secret Family Code: I always advise families in clinic to have a secret code and parachute for their teen if stuck in a situation where they may get in a car with someone who is high/drinking. Establish a phrase that wouldn’t be suspicious if overheard. If your child has no choice of a ride home except with someone who is smoking weed or drinking they can call and secretly ask for help. They can blame their parents when you say you’re on your way. Code can be something like, “Why are you asking about the trip to Montana NOW” — that immediately puts in place the conversation of picking up your child wherever they are with no attached punishment.
  5. Uber, cab, bus? If you’re in an urban area make a back-up plan for your teen. Have an uber account for emergencies, discuss bus routes, and go over how to fetch a taxi if your teen doesn’t feel safe riding home with friends at some point. Let’s keep EVERY child out of a car that could send a text like “I’m RWDD.” Let’s make this easier…..