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Here are some suggestions on how to prepare your teens to make smart and safe decisions.
First, accept that your teens will take risks
While your teens will take risks, it's important to recognize that your behaviour and your interactions with them will influence the types of risks they take.
"Every child and teen will take risks, and the best thing we can do as parents is to provide a supportive, caring and involved environment for them to learn to take the smartest and safest risks," says Morrish. "Parents need to be there to help their teens with these tough choices, being their co-pilot while they navigate through a world full of risks."
Don't interrogate; communicate
Communicate with your teens by having conversations that involve them and by avoiding inquests that interrogate them, however tempting they may be. Provide reminders, have followup conversations and be sure your kids know that you're always willing to help them – in any situation.
Find teachable moments
Educate your teens by looking for teachable moments, such as sharing stories in the media about kids and drugs or pointing out unsafe drivers who are texting or talking on their cellphones. Encourage your teens to express their opinions of these situations as well.
Don't just monitor your teenagers, be knowledgeable about their lives
Morrish stresses the importance of not simply monitoring your teens' activities, but knowing exactly what they're doing, with whom and where.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police maintain a website called "What's the Deal" at deal.org, which has a great tip sheet on how to best communicate with teenagers.
Are you ready for the in-depth conversations you'll need to have with your teens? These are some of the top safety issues to bring up with your kids.
Drugs and alcohol
There is no shortage of heartbreaking stories to demonstrate that impaired judgement resulting from alcohol and drug use is among the most urgent of teen safety issues. Your teens need to know that impaired decision-making puts them at serious risk of hurting both themselves and others.
Teens also need to be aware of the imminent dangers of smoking, swallowing or shooting illegal drugs that could be laced with other deadly substances and that may put unsuspecting users in the hospital, or worse. Health Canada offers a list of suggestions on how to talk to your kids about drugs.
Find more conversations to have: drugs, parties and Internet safety on page 2.
Frame your discussion about being a safe driver and passenger by addressing the Deadly Driving Ds: drunk, drugged, drowsy, distracted and drag racing. And don't forget "detached," because without you there to remind them, your teens may be less likely to wear their seatbelts.
Check out the I Promise Program for a safe-driving contract you can enact with your teens.
Parties: Suggest a party pact
Suggest that your teen make a pact with a friend to watch out for each other and reconnect regularly during parties. Ideally, your kids won't be consuming alcohol, but regardless of what's in their glass, they should know to never leave a drink unattended.
Teens must know that their parents (for advice) and the police (for intervention) are just a phone call away. When news of a party is spread instantaneously through social media, the number of guests – welcome or unwelcome – can swell out of control. If there are signs of violence or other dangerous activities, rescue calls can be discretely made, and partygoers and unwitting hosts should consider these calls a smart and responsible option – even if it means getting in trouble for breaking the rules.
Safety in the workplace
Although your teens may question your authority regularly, they may be less likely to share their concerns with an employer at a new job. Discuss what tasks your teens perform at work, including on-the-job safety. Encourage your kids to advocate for themselves and keep the conversation going.
On the Internet
Remind your teens how easy it is for online acquaintances to lie about who they are, and have them promise to never meet somebody about whom they have no real-life knowledge.
Coping with emotional problemsâ€¨
Parental, academic and social pressures can be very real burdens to teenagers. Even if your teens don't appear to be struggling, it's important to make them aware that you are always there to provide support or to help them find it elsewhere.â€¨
Social media and Internet bragging seem to be fuelling an increase in car surfing incidents and injuries. Climbing out of a moving car and "surfing" on it can cause major injuries as surfers may fall off of the car at high speeds or even get run over.
The choking game
Teens need to know that "the choking game," which is often considered a safe, undetectable alternative to drugs and alcohol, can cause brain damage, seizures and even death. According to awareness website gaspinfo.com, there is reason to suspect that some teen deaths attributed to suicide actually resulted from the choking game gone terribly wrong.
Discuss the importance of head protection, and explain how a properly fitting helmet is designed to absorb the impact typical of the activity for which it was made. Encourage your teens to wear appropriate helmets on bikes, skateboards, four-wheelers, mini bikes, motorcycles, snowmobiles, skis, snowboards and for all other activities for which helmets are available.
As your teens get older, they will be swimming more often with friends and less often with adult supervisors. Remind your kids about common sense safety precautions when near the water. They should never swim alone, dive into unknown waters or mix swimming and drinking, and they should always wear a lifejacket in a boat and during water activities such as water skiing or tubing.
Without your on-the-spot reminders to slather on sunscreen, keep hydrated and sport a hat and light clothing while at the lake or pool, your teens might find themselves suffering the short-term effects of dehydration and heat illness, not to mention increased risk of melanoma, the long-term effect of sunburn.
Paula McKee, the mother of two teenagers and former camp director, has a unique perspective and a keen interest in researching and writing about kids' safety issues.