By Parenting Expert, Dateline Contributor

Explainer: Tips from 'The Perils of Parenting'

  • Read advice and helpful tips from Michele Borba related to the Dateline NBC report, 'The Perils of Parenting.' The full hour will be available on the Dateline site Tuesday afternoon.

  • On Drinking and Driving

    Imagine you and your teen are part of this scene that took place two weeks ago. How do you think your teen would respond?

    You drop your teen off to what you both think is a casting call for a reality show and are escorted to a room with the other parents. A woman comes in to introduce herself as a producer from NBC’s Dateline explaining that they’re doing a special about the dangers of teen drinking and driving. Hidden cameras will film your unsuspecting kid with an actor who is to play the role of a drunken drinker. He tells your kid that he’s been drinking. Your kid can smell the alcohol on his breath (though he really hasn’t had a drop), sees that the clearly unfit to drive, and admits later that he believed that the actor consumed alcohol.

    You watch the scene live on a monitor reminding yourself that you’ve told your teen repeatedly to never get into a car with a drunk driver and the dangers. So now the question: Will your teen get into that car knowing the driver has been drinking?

    Dateline filmed the scene again and again while their parents watched. And each time every single teen got into the car with a driver who they thought was drunk. Every teen also got into the car when the actor took his “drunken role” up a notch--almost unable to walk. And each and every time the parent voiced complete and total disbelief.

    Don’t be too sure your teen won’t do the same. If there’s a lesson here it’s this: Please don’t use a “not my kid” kind of attitude.

    Underage drinking is a growing problem. And the mix of drinking and driving are a lethal combination. Here are tips that could save your teen’s life that I offered Dateline. This is one parenting peril we cannot ignore.

    Parenting Tips On Drinking and Driving That Could Save Your Teen’s Life

    Be a good model. A recent study found that adolescents[i]whose parents were authoritative (rank high is discipline, monitoring, support and warmth) were less likely to drink heavily than adolescents whose parents were authoritarian, indulgent or neglectful. If you’re not an example of responsible behavior don’t expect your kid to act responsibly. Your teen is watching. Be the example you want your teen to catch.

    Start early and talk often. It makes no difference that your child does not have a driver’s license let alone a car. Now is the time to stress one emphatic rule: “NEVER ever drink and drive.” Talk to your kid about the dangers of drinking and driving. And keep talking! Research shows that a close parental relationship with teens is a powerful way to reduce risky behaviors.

    Don’t make liquor available. Teens admit getting alcohol is easy-and the easiest place is in their home. Count those liquor bottles. Lock up your liquor supply--and don’t tell your teen where the key is! Watch your credit card: the hottest new place kids buy alcohol is on the Internet. And admonish an older sibling to not be the supplier.

    Be strict. A study of over 1000 teens found that kids with “hands on” parents who establish clear behavior expectations, monitor their comings and goings, and aren’t afraid to say no are four times less likely to engage in risky behaviors like drinking.

    Put it in writing. Have your teen sign a contract to never drink and drive. Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) www.saddonline.comprovides a free online contract to download. It may help them put the pause button on for just a second so they don’t get behind that wheel.

    Set clear consequences. Stress to your teen that drinking and driving—either as the driver or passenger—means an automatic lose of his or her driving license. Teen’s say they will be more cautious if they know you are serious and will follow through. Teens also say that fear of parental punishment is a big reason they don’t call. So make a pack: if he calls for a ride, he can keep that license.

    Develop comebacks. Peer pressure is fierce, and teens say those “Just say no” type lines don’t work. So help your adolescent create lines to use to with peers that let him save face and buck the pressure: “My dad will take away my license.” “I don’t need a ride-my friend is coming.” “My mom will ground me for life—and she always finds out.”

    Invent a secret code. Teens say that losing face with peers is a big reason they don’t call for help. “I couldn’t call you. My friends would hear!” So create a text code like “1-1-1” or a phrase such as “I’m getting the flu” so your teen can save face and still alert you that needs rescue. Then promise that you’ll pick her up with no questions asked.

    Create “just in case” backups. Give your teen a card with phone numbers of taxicab services. Put emergency money in a drawer and tell your teen to use it “Just in case you ever need a taxi cab.” Set a pack with a trusted adult that if you’re not available, your teen knows he can call her for help. Set up the Safe Rides program at your community. Get teen to designate other peers as drivers who do not drink.

    Get on board with other parents. Call any parent hosting a party to ensure they’re really supervising those parties. Ninety-nine[ii]percent of parents say they would not serve alcohol at their kid’s party; 28% of teens say they have been at supervised parties where alcohol is available. Ninety-eight[iii]percent of parents say they’re present, but 33% of teens say parents are rarely or never at teen parties. Know your teen’s friends and their parents.


    B. Hendrick, “Binge Drinking Less Likely in Teens With Strict, Supportive Parents, Study Says,” WebMD Health News, June 25, 2010.

    CASA 2000 Teen Survey: Teens with “Hands-off” Parents at Four Times Great Risk of Smoking, Drinking and Using Illegal Drugs as Teens With “Hands-On Parents,” Columbia News, retrieved May 19, 2007,

    D. Leinwand, “Survey: Parents Clueless on Booze, Drugs At Teen Parties,” USA Today, Aug 17, 2006, p. 8A.

  • Safety Smarts

    While there are no guarantees for our children’s well being, research shows we can teach a few crucial safety basics that may help them be less likely to be harmed. Though you may fear that talking about frightening issue such as kidnapping will scare the pants off your kids, not doing so is a mistake. The secret is to bring up the topic in relaxed way just as you discuss fire and pool safety. Just consider your child’s age, developmental level and the safety skills he needs at that point in his life.

    The best way to teach any skill is to show what it looks like, and then practice it until the child can use it alone.  And if you want your kid to stand up for herself, don’t get in the habit of speaking for her. It can rob her from developing the skills she needs to look and sound determined. Instead, find opportunities for her to practice using strong body language and a firm voice so she can learn to defend himself.

    Establish a family secret code. Choose a memorable code like “Geronimo,” to give only to family members or trusted individuals responsible for your kids in your absence. Then stress: “Never leave with anyone who can’t say our family’s secret code.” Create a texted code (like “111” or “123”) to be used by the child to contact you if in danger. It recently saved a California teen from abduction.

    Help your child recognize suspiciousbehavior. Instead of scaring (and possibly even confusing) your kids with the “Stranger = Danger” approach, experts suggest that a better approach is to teach kids to recognize suspicious situations. Here are a few adult behaviors kids should be aware of:

    Asking for help: “I need help finding my child. Please help me!”  “Can you help me look for my puppy?”

    Offering treats: “Would you like some candy?” “I have a skateboard in my car. Would you like it?”

    Feigning an emergency: “Hurry! You mom was in an accident. I’ll take you to the hospital.”

    Flaunting authority: “I think you’re the kid who hurt my son. Come with me and we’ll go find your parents.”

    Pretending to be an official:“I’m with the F.B.I. and this is my badge. You must come.” (Tell your child to call you ASAP to verify the situation). 

    Faking friendship with a parent. “I’m an old friend of your dad’s. He asked me to come over. Can you take me to your house?”  

    Emphasize to your child that she can always ask a stranger for help, but a stranger does not ask kids for help.

    Do NOT open the door. Stress repeatedly to never open the door to someone who is not an immediate family member. Explain that anyone who is a friend will understand your rule and not mind waiting. Emphasize: “Don’t say anything-find a parent!” If you’re not home, tell your child to phone you from a backroom or 9-1-1 if in danger.

    Teach 9-1-1. Make sure your child knows her first and last name, your first and last name, phone number, and address. Program your phone so your child can reach you and dial 9-1-1 instantly. Put a sticker on the “0.” Then teach how to dial “operator” to reverse charges, so she can call you from any phone anywhere.

    Teach: “Drop, Holler, and Run.” Teach your child that if he ever needs to get away quickly, he should drop whatever he is carrying, holler, and run. If possible, he should run to an adult (ideally a woman with children) screaming, “Help! This isn’t my dad!” If grabbed, he should hold on to anything (such as his bicycle handles or car door) holler, and kick an abductor in the groin or eyes. Dropping to the ground and kicking-tantrum style-makes it more difficult to be picked up. Stress: “I’ll never be upset if you hurts someone if you’re trying to protect yourself.”

    Use your gut instinct. A “fear factor” can be a powerful in keeping kids safe, but often isn’t used because we fail to help our kids learn theirs. Teach your child that if she ever feels he could be in danger, to use that fear instinct and leave immediately. You’ll support her.

    Kids need our permission to defend themselves, and they then need to know how to do so. Above all, remind your son or daughter that you are there whatever the situation may be, and you love him or her no matter what.


    Dr. Michele Borba is an educational psychologist, parenting expert, Today show contributor and author of 22 books including The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries. For more about her work, visit Michele Borba.comor follow her on twitter @micheleborba.

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