I’m writing this week’s blog post on March 18, the day after St. Patrick’s Day (and a belated luck of the Irish to you). Not terribly significant unless you consider that it’s also National Forgive Mom and Dad Day. I kid you not! Now I have no idea who came up with this, but I feel compelled to comment.
First, I really can’t think of anything to forgive my mom and dad for except maybe the time my mother made me wear that horrible pink and white checked, smock dress (a hand me down from my sister) to church on Easter Sunday. (As you can see, I’ve never gotten over it.) I can honestly say that I am grateful to my parents for all they’ve done for me over the years as well as the many things they have taught me including always being honest and kind and never giving less than 100 percent. Yes, they set rules and my siblings and I were punished when we broke them, but I believe those experiences have helped me become a better person.
Perhaps if I ask my teenage son if this day brings any strong feelings about his parents, the response may be a bit different. I don’t think we’re overly strict or unreasonable parents. We do expect him to make school work his number one priority, to follow through on all commitments and to always do his best. Sixteen years into this parenting thing, my husband and I appear to be holding our own and our son has yet to run out the door screaming.
But there have been times, particularly now that he’s learning to drive, when I can honestly say that being a parent is not only hard, but downright frightening. I know he’s excited about getting his license (exactly six months and counting) and I’m excited for him, but I also know about the statistics for teens. It’s one of the most dangerous times of their life (certainly as a driver) and if they’re not careful, having a license could kill them.
Harsh? Yes, but that’s reality. As leader of the New Jersey Teen Safe Driving Coalition, a role I’m both honored and humbled to fill on behalf of The Allstate Foundation, the National Safety Council and the many amazing advocates across this state, I’ve met too family members devastated by the loss of a teen in a motor vehicle crash. From Donna Weeks and John Farrace to Marilyn Abbate and John Brenner, I’m honored to work with these amazing parents who are determined not to have others suffer the same fate.
So when it comes to ensuring that my son—my only child—is safe behind the wheel, I’m going to be a stickler about the rules. No driving after 11 p.m. (it will be earlier the first few months of licensure), no more than one passenger in the vehicle (no passengers for at least the first 30 to 60 days, the deadliest time period for all novice drivers), and no electronic devices (I will be monitoring his cell phone).
Since he won’t have a car, he’ll need to ask permission to use mine. Will he be annoyed? Maybe, but research clearly shows that when a teen must ask for the keys, his crash risk is cut in half. Why? As a parent, having the chance to reinforce the rules (including always buckling up), ask where he’s going and with whom, and to remind him to check in if his plans change, are all proven to have a powerful and lasting effect.
Yes, they really are listening. So on National Forgive Mom and Dad Day, hold firm, don’t feel bad and remember that it’s our job to protect our children so that they grow up to lead happy, healthy and productive lives. As I say frequently at parent/teen driving orientation programs that I facilitate, “I’ve only got one child and it’s his job to outlive me. Plus, I need someone to take care of me in my old age!”
One final note, you may know someone in your community who has been working diligently to promote teen safe driving and the proven principles of New Jersey’s Graduated Driver License (GDL) program (our three-step licensing process for novice drivers). If so, please consider nominating that individual for recognition as a GDL Champion (nominations will be accepted online through March 31, 2012).
Developed by the Teen Safe Driving Coalition in 2011 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of NJ’s GDL program, GDL Champions come from all walks of life—they’re parents, teens, educators, law enforcement and public health officials, business men and women, legislators even newspaper reporters. All winners will be announced on May 1 to launch National Youth Traffic Safety Month and honored at the New Jersey Brain Injury Alliance’s Champion Schools Showcase on May 11 in Freehold.