Annette writes:

Hello! How can we impress on our 16yr old new driver the importance of telling us if his friends do dangerous or inappropriate things while driving? He has admitted that he would be afraid to tell us because he knows we would talk to the friend's parents and the friend would get in trouble. He doesn't want to get his friend into trouble.
Thank you!!

Dr. Todd writes:

This is a tough situation for both you and your son. He wants to be a good friend without “ratting” on his friends, and you want to be responsible parents. Hopefully, there is a way that both of these can happen.

Unfortunately, many wonderful teens are killed in car accidents each year. In terms of little or big things, your son needs to be reminded that this is a BIG thing that he and his friends need to handle responsibly. Worrying about hurting someone’s feelings is not our main concern here. Helping your son and his friends be safe in an automobile is.

If your son is going to drive, you must be assured that he is willing to follow the rules that you have set to ensure safe driving for him and his passengers. This will mean no talking on a cell phone while driving, wearing seatbelts, and whatever other rules you deem appropriate for his level of driving skill and experience. If a friend tries to break these rules while your son is driving, your son needs to know how to ask his friend to respect the rules. This is a good thing to practice a few times so your son is comfortable setting appropriate limits in the car.

The next issue is your son’s safety when another teen is driving. My assumption is that you are only letting your son drive with kids that you feel are likely to be safe, conscientious drivers. However, if you son feels that one of his friends, we’ll call the friend Billy, has driven in an unsafe manner and is likely to do so again, we want your son to talk to you about it because this is a BIG thing. People’s lives are at stake and there is no benefit in pretending otherwise.

Sit down with your son and have him practice what he would say to Billy if Billy is driving in a way that makes your son feel uncomfortable. The truth is that your son will be saying what most of the other kids are thinking. Your son could practice a sentence like, “Billy, if you are going to ___________ (not watch where you are going, drive carelessly, speed, text and drive), then I’d just as soon go with someone else or drive on my own. I don’t want to get in an accident.”

As a parent, you will decide if you think a certain driving behavior is extreme enough to warrant a phone call to the other parents. Perhaps you will just not have your son drive with Billy. If you think talking to Billy’s parents is called for, your son’s best course of action is to be honest with Billy about it. All your son did was mention his driving experience to you and YOU decided to call Billy’s parents because you were concerned. This was your choice, not your son’s, and it was made out of honest concern for Billy’s safety.

Sometimes being a good friend means being responsible. If Billy is trying to make good decisions, he’ll appreciate your son’s honesty and friendship. Deep inside, Billy knows your son was right. And deep inside, your son will know he made the right decision too.

Dr. Todd

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