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October 31, 2023

Ask Lisa Podcast - Episode 142

Should My Teen Be In Cars with New Drivers?

Episode 142

Parents can feel worried when their teen first starts driving or riding around in friends’ cars. What can parents do to help teens stay safe behind the wheel? What rules should be put in place and how well do those rules work? Dr. Lisa and Reena answer these questions and more while also addressing graduated drivers’ license laws and the part they play in reducing accidents among young drivers.

October 31, 2023 | 28 min

Transcript | Should My Teen Be In Cars with New Drivers?

TRANSCRIPT | SHOULD MY TEEN BE IN CARS WITH NEW DRIVERS?

Ask Lisa Podcast, Ep. 142: Should My Teen Be In Cars with New Drivers?

The Ask Lisa Podcast does not constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for professional mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being, consult a physician or mental health professional.

The following transcript has been automatically generated by an AI system and should be used for informational purposes only. We cannot guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or timeliness of the information provided.

——

Reena Ninan
What age were you when you started to drive?

Lisa Damour
So I was 16 I got my license on my birthday. I remember it. I have a November birthday. I remember waking up and it hits note and I was super bummed. But I was in Colorado and I didn’t want to take my driving test in the snow. But I took that test and I passed it the first time. But interestingly, I was young for my grade. And my closest friends who were twins and gotten their license in January a full 11 months before I did and I had been driving around with them for almost a year before I was driving so this letter…

Reena Ninan
How long have they been driving? Like just, just literally got their license?

Lisa Damour
Oh, got their license I was in I was jumping in their car jumps in funny it how about you Reena? How did it unfold for you?

Reena Ninan
Well, I you know grew up in Tampa, Florida. And at 15 you can get your learner’s and by 16 You had your own your you can drive by yourself. And there were no rules about who you could take or who you couldn’t take. And I think there are now in many states, right? We’re gonna get to this, but I want to read this letter, because it’s, it is wow, it’s a lot of things you wouldn’t think about. But here we go. Dr. Lisa, Karina, my son just turned 16, several of his friends have gotten their driver’s license, and many others have permits and are working towards their license. All of a sudden, our son has the expectation that he’s now able to drive with all his friends who have licenses, what are the things to think about, and talk about when it comes to driving and riding with peers and cars? This feels new and a bit scary. We want to set up common sense parameters, and we need some help. I really appreciate any thoughts you both may have. First, how scared should this parent be? Right?

Lisa Damour
Well, I gotta tell you, you know, having been through this as a mom, it is so scary when your kid starts riding around, either as a new driver, or if they’re driven by peers. And we’ll come back to the question of whether that’s even legal where you live. But I have to tell you, I remember when my older daughter was practicing driving and getting ready to have a driver’s license. I had this like daydream of like, yes, she can drive, we’re gonna go to an army surplus and purchase a tank. She’s allowed to drive like my kid is gonna be driven around Ohio. And those are the only conditions I am comfortable with. And, you know, I had been caring for families in my practice where questions about kids driving, you know, was coming up and watched how scared parents were. And I actually, this letter pulls to mind. I just it was one of the most tender and hardest clinical things I dealt with. It was a long time ago I was I just got my PhD and I was practicing in Michigan. And I was working at a clinic and I had a client come in, and it was a dad and a daughter. But the mom was not part of the picture. The daughter was 16 she was about to get her driver’s license. The dad was a Michigan State Patrol. And his job as State Patrol was to go to accidents where there had been lethality. Wow. And this guy could not stomach the idea of his daughter driving. And I have such a vivid memory of this sweet, terrified giant cop sitting in my office. And this sweet, honestly, enraged, 16 year old girl sitting next to him, and she’s like, are you even kidding me? Like I can’t try And he’s like, are you even kidding me, you have no idea what I see all day. And I have never seen such an impasse, I think eventually, we came up with like 700 parameters that made it possible for her to get behind the wheel. But Reena man, it is way too your kids are there, it is terrifying.

Reena Ninan
I feel it already, you know, and my kids are 11 and 12. But we’re looking for a new car, I want a new SUV. But in my mind, I’m thinking, Okay, this is probably getting me the vehicle, they’re gonna be driving around in three, four years. So I started watching like these test dummy videos of all the cars I’m looking at. And then it’s like, you don’t want don’t don’t go down that rabbithole. Absolutely.

Lisa Damour
And like, you know, let’s take a minute here, like we’re talking about kids who have the kind of financial access that gives them you know, the possibility of even getting a driver’s license, who, you know, may or may not have access to a car may have access to their own car, like this isn’t going to be every kid like we were we are actually, for lots of reasons, it doesn’t make sense to give your kid a car, like, it never made sense for us to give or have a car that Our older daughter, you know, called her own. She always was driving our cars. But I also had the same thing of like, okay, this is the car my kids going to be driving when she doesn’t know much about driving. So it’s really scary. But not every family is, of course, even in a position to have this worry where they can afford to have cars for their kids to drive.

Reena Ninan
It’s a great point. Take us back for a second because not only have you looked at the research and the laws, but you actually had a daughter who went through this. What do you What should parents keep in mind, once your kids are officially licensed drivers?

Lisa Damour
Well, this was one of those places in parenting, where it’s just very scary to have a teenager. And I wish I was like so here’s the magic answer to not being worried about your teenager safety. But there are realities to having teenagers, especially where they leave the house, they go to parties, they are not entirely under our supervision, we cannot 100% guarantee their safety. And I think if I do come up with a magic solution to that problem, I will do that, I’ll tell you first Reena. But I think that there’s also just at some level, we have to say, you know, you have a kid, you know, they pass the driver’s test, you do everything you can to prepare them. At some level, you have to hope that it all goes okay. Or if they have a little, you know, issue, it’s a little issue, right. And, you know, one of the ways I thought about it as a parent is you know, there’s local driving, and there’s highway driving. And those are very different safety levels. And so, you know, this is a minor adjustment. And it’s not that kids can have a terrible accident locally. But I think the more time kids can spend driving locally, before they’re doing a lot of highway driving, probably the better. But we’re like, we’re like, you know, just working around the edges here means there isn’t a fundamental core here that having a teenager scary, and having a teenager who has started to drive is a very scary thing.

Reena Ninan
What do you think parents need to keep in mind when they get the keys? What are the rules? You know, you have rules, you’re not anti technology or anti social media, you are like, this is our world? Here are some parameters, what would you set up that parents should maybe need to keep in mind?

Lisa Damour
So you make rules, like there is no interacting with your phone when you are, you know, in the car. You know? And that gets to question about, like navigators and stuff, you know, and having to figure that out. But it also means we have to be very careful what we’re modeling as parents, right? True before our kids start driving about, you know, whether we’re like, you know, getting to the stoplight and texting and you know, like, do we want to be showing that, you know, there’s some people who have their day themselves and have their kid put their phone in the trunk. You know, while they’re driving. Like that is not a bad idea at all. And then, you know, I was listening to this letter, one thing that’s really helpful, because this parent is concerned about her son riding around with peers. This is a good concern to have. And the reason that the concern is heavily validated by research is that we have research showing that 16 and 17 year olds in particular, so new drivers are more likely to have accidents for every additional past passenger in the car who is appear so not family members. But for every additional friend who’s in the car, the chances of having an accident go up. And we have studied this is actually very easy to study, right? You pull the accident data you pull who was in the car, you look at the age of the driver. And so because of those laws, actually, this is one of those are those statistics. This is one of those places, but it’s pretty rare where the laws do a really good job of you know, responding to what we know from the research side. In the 90s. Most states put in what’s called a graduated driver’s license, which is you have your permit before age 60 And then somewhere around 16. And it’s not age 16, and zero months in every state, some states even push it older. But you get your limited driver’s license, I think is what it’s called her intermediate driver’s license. That comes with all these extra rules. So you’ve passed your driver’s test. And in most states, the rules are limiting driving at night, that there’s curfew times where kids cannot be driving. And in most states, it is you can have one passenger under the age of 21, who is not a family member, or zero passengers under the age of 21. And that is true for a year that is true for six months. So the states have actually taken it upon themselves to use this research to show it is not safe for packs of teenagers to be driving around in cars, were going to make it illegal. And when those laws came in, immediately, we saw a drop in lethal accidents for young drivers.

Reena Ninan
Wow, by putting laws in place about nighttime driving, how many people can be in the car, you saw the number of teen fatalities drop?

Lisa Damour
Dramatically. Like these laws work. The research holds up. So the first thing I think when I listen to this letter is like, well, what state are you in? Because there’s a really good chance that your kids aren’t even allowed to be in another kid’s car. And so you’ve got those laws on your side?

Reena Ninan
How do you even find out Lisa, like, you know, I’m in the state of Connecticut, you’re in Ohio. But if someone’s in Florida or Texas or California, how do they find out what those laws are?

Lisa Damour
Pretty easy to do a Google search and just you know, like Google, Google Limited driver law, you know, rules in my state, and those will pop right up. And a couple states are pretty, you know, are looser about it. Not all states have this, but the vast majority of states are very rigid about who can be in the car. And you know, and they all have like these funny little variables, like there can be an extra teenager if there’s also an adult in the car supervising the whole situation, but the laws really get it about the role of having peers in the car.

Reena Ninan
And that’s also great if you’re vacationing somewhere that you and your child has sick, right? I mean, that’s another thing that you need to get into really good point. I want to get more into the laws and also ask about additional rules for parents as well, in dealing with this situation. Lisa, you were talking a little bit about the research that you’ve looked into. I’m just so fascinated by the fact you say with every other kid in the car, it goes up exponentially that the chance of of an accident. Why is that? Can you tell us a little bit more about the research?

Lisa Damour
Yeah, so some I actually love this study. And you know, like, this is the nerd in me, I just like get really excited about studies. And the key study that I want to unpack actually was done by researchers, Margot Gardner and actually Lauren Steinberg, Larry Steinberg, who joined us on the podcast last season, who has long studied teenagers. And here’s how they did this research study. And it’s like so clever. So they had a lab where they brought in people in three different age groups. So they had young teenagers 13 to 16. They had older teenagers who were 18 to 24. And then they had people over the age of 18 to 22. And then they had people over the age of 24. So 13 To 1618 to 22, and then 24 years older. So they brought each of these groups into a lab. And they had them do a video game where you were driving in the video game, and you’re trying to get to where you were going as fast as possible. And there were points for getting there faster. But there were also points taken away for accidents. But there it encouraged, frankly, reckless driving. They watched how people in each of these three groups, young teenagers, older teenagers and adults play this video game when nobody was watching them. When they were all by themselves in the lab. They recorded that. And what they found is they all drove very similarly. Even the 13 to 16 year old group was every bit as cautious as the adults. They then brought in age mates to watch them play the video game. So for the 13 to 16 year old subjects in the research study. They brought in other young teenagers to watch them as they played the video games and they did this for all of the age groups. And what they discovered is that when they had age mates watching, things changed. The adults drove the same. The adults were no more risky when other adults watched them drive. The older adolescents the 18 to 22 year old group got a little riskier when their age mates were watching the 13 to 16 year olds became twice as risky when their friends are watching. So the key In this is the 13 to 16 year olds drove the same as the adults when they were alone. It’s when they have their peers around, that things get dangerous. And that’s how we have, you know, establish this.

Reena Ninan
So is it partially distraction also them saying maybe go faster or egging them on? And they want to show off? It’s like, what do you think it is, really all of the above?

Lisa Damour
I think is kind of all of the above. I think in the research study, the peers were silent, they were just present. But it also gets to something we’ve talked about recently on the podcast of like cold and hot reasoning that you’ve got two different neural systems that work when teenagers are out in the world. They’ve got their logical, thoughtful, reasonable driving all by myself neural system, and then they have their which is what we call cold reasoning. And then they have their hot reasoning, like I’m with my friends, this is exciting, you know, and they are more likely to have accidents under those conditions. So those are the kinds of research studies that have been game changing to the laws and actually, to adolescent safety.

Reena Ninan
Make sense. Makes total sense. I didn’t know about these laws. And I didn’t know about the research either. Just so fascinating. What do you say for parents, like, what I think about the was the Highway Patrol, that you mentioned, Michigan State Patrol, patrol guy, and like, what are rules that you think are reasonable, that parents should consider putting in place?

Lisa Damour
So the kinds of rules I would make, and they can be hard to enforce… Like, no music, right? Even that, right, you know, especially like, I like love vibing to music in my heart, but you know, like, for teenagers, and like, I’m sure my own adolescent daughters would like, roll their eyes tremendously to hear me say the word vibing. In public, teenagers, like, they really vibe to their music. And so you know, you can say, Listen, no music, put your phone in the trunk, Do not text while driving, do not do any of those things. Your job is to, you know, show us that you’re a very safe driver. You know, there’s, there’s ways you can monitor and technology that helps you monitor and if you really are anxious about your kid, I would look into that, like you can monitor the speeds are going I mean, there’s things like that. But again, you know, we say this a lot like you gotta know your kid, you got to know if you can trust your kid, if you don’t trust your kid, if you’re like, this, you know, is a very impulsive young person who’s not going to follow any my rules, you know, that maybe you’re going to constrain their driving for a while, while they grew up with it. But I think no music, no phones, and then, you know, hopefully the laws are on your side, and like no driving your friends around. And if you happen to be in a state where you’re like, nope, the laws are not there or not rigid enough, go ahead and make them like, pull up the national landscape of these laws and be like, Look, I don’t know why our state doesn’t have these laws. These laws are based in research, they keep you safe. I am making this rule. And you know, like, it’s not forever. It’s not. It’s like most of them, you get a full driver’s license by 17. You know, it’s like, it’s not, you know, an infinity time. But it is, this is really, you know, it’s big stuff.

Reena Ninan
It is, it really is, and I also think the point about modeling behavior, I know I’m very guilty, I pick up the phone, I’m at a red light, I’m texting because I need to, you know, find out what, where the next thing is, or whatever we’re doing. But I know my kids are watching. Do you have any advice for parents on modeling good behavior?

Lisa Damour
Well, it’s tough, right? Because we think we can do it. And we are more experienced drivers. And you know, I think a lot of us, I will say, myself included, have been like, Well, I’ve been doing it and nothing bad has happened, right? So it’s, it’s, you know, kind of reinforcing in that way. I think that it is really worth it. As your kids approach driving age, to make a big production of saying, you know, I’ve been thinking about you becoming a driver, I’ve been thinking about my driving, and I am changing how I’m driving, these are my new rules. Well, I’m gonna start putting my phone in the trunk, or I’m going to disable it. So even it can’t come through, you know, my phone connects to my car. And then sometimes, like, you know, I can take calls that way. Just so you know, what I’m gonna focus on 2% It’s just not worth it. It’s just not worth it. There’s nothing I have that is so urgent that it cannot wait till I’m done driving, I would make a big production of it and say, These are the rules for me, these are going to be 100% the rules for you.

Reena Ninan
That is great about making a big production. But you know, it’s also hard because like, Google Maps is connected to my phone and if I’m going somewhere new, I’m putting that in and or is there an alternative route on the path that we’re going that we know, you know? So I think the the reality of how your phones are used for so much is really hard.

Lisa Damour
It is hard, and the other thing we know I have no sense of direction like I’m like learning disability level, no sense of direction. It just doesn’t happen to be a learning disability. We diagnose it Did you have this experience? I remember this. I didn’t know how to get anywhere. Like when I got my driver’s license, like I didn’t know how to get any of the places I had been going for years. I was just driving. There was no Google Maps back then. Right? We were driving. Yeah. And I hadn’t, I have no instincts to fall back on. Yeah. And so I think a lot about and actually, I found this with my older daughter who does actually have a sense of direction. When you’re, when you’re being driven around, you don’t always pay attention. So she actually wasn’t very fluent with how to get to the places she was supposed to go once she became a driver. And so one thing that we needed to do, because I didn’t want her, you know, trying to use her phone, and a lot of states, it’s illegal to use a phone while driving, especially if you’re a teenager, like they have special laws for that. As part of our driving practice, as a family, I had her drive to places that I had driven her so she started to learn the route. As much as she was learning also how to drive.

Reena Ninan
That’s good. hadn’t even thought of that. So because you do get nervous. And you know, you kind of forget and that’s it’s really, really great. Do you I can’t imagine you have do you have a horrible driving story of your own?

Lisa Damour
You know, I feel like I got really lucky. Because I think about like so I grew up skiing in Colorado. And you know, I had a car that like, I loved my car, but it wasn’t a good car. When I think about the driving, I did it 16 Like up into the mountains in Colorado on these like, you know, snowy roads with sheer drops. I’m like, how do parents do that? Like, I would never let my kid do that. So luckily, nothing bad happened. Did anything happen to you?

Reena Ninan
Oh, yeah. I was 16 years of senior year and my mom had gone away. It’s first time she’d ever left us gone away for a month to Kerala, India, where she’s from because her her brother was getting married. And so she took the month off and went, and she came back and I decided to skip school. And just go back home to see my mom. I mean, what kind of a nerd Am I skipping school to go to see your and have lunch. And as I was pulling out of the king high school parking lot in Tampa, Florida, I hit the school police officers car. Good job. The police officers car as I’m leaving school. It was horrible. It was such a cool, like so good. But he they had to do a write up. They had to document it. They had to call him another police officer to come in. And the rumor around school because Mrs. Jackson, who’s a teacher at loved law studies had brought in a forensic scientist to come in. So the rumor by lunchtime was that I had killed somebody in the school parking lot. Okay, which was not true.

Lisa Damour
Thank God you did not do that. But also, that’s hilarious.

Reena Ninan
Hot, cold reasoning.

Lisa Damour
That’s right. You’re so excited to see your mom okay. You like you get the nerd prize for being so excited to see your mom that that is the conditions under which hot reasoning kicked out.

Reena Ninan
Oh, I do love. I do love my mom. But you know, it is scary. And I think there are just so many things when you add cell phones and right now that, you know back when we were driving, we didn’t have that and to just be disciplined about it. But you worry, I want to give them the freedom i i get excited when my kids get older and they can reach a milestone of independence. But there’s so much to think about.

Lisa Damour
There’s so much to think about. And what I will say and I think a lot of parents will say this is it also gets better for the parent, that it’s very worrisome when your kid first gets their license or when you know if your laws allow it. Your kid can be in a car with a kid who just got a license. And then as you know, the months pass, and hopefully everything goes okay. And the kids do become more skilled as drivers like your anxiety goes down. So it’s not a forever problem for the parent either. And it’s not that horrible things don’t happen. And they do, right. I mean, I don’t want to minimize that. Here’s another one, Reena, for you to think about. A lot of the laws allow family members in the car. So one of the scariest thing that also comes up is you get this like so this happened for us, like your kid can finally drive she’s 16 and your younger kid needs to go somewhere. And so then you’re like, fantastic. I have a driver and then you’re like holy moly, my two children are in the same car race driven by a new driver. So it’s all very scary. And you know, people should trust their instincts and you know make the rules that might make sense to them. But there also does happily come a point where you’re also thrilled to have your big kid take your younger kid somewhere because it just makes your life easier if if you’ve got that kind of car situation in your family.

Reena Ninan
Yeah, we are at the pickup drop off like mania phase so I welcome it but it’s your right having your two most prized possessions in life in one car with very limited driving experience is scary.

Lisa Damour
It’s pretty scary stuff. Yeah, so yeah, parenting is not for the faint of heart. Let’s just say that.

Reena Ninan
I wish someone had told me that before we had children. There’s so much I wish I had learned before we had children, you’ll be fine. You’ll be fine. So what do you have for us, Lisa, for Parenting to Go?

Lisa Damour
You know, I have a wonderful, wonderful friend, who’s a mother of four. All of whom, her youngest is a junior in high school. So she’s really parented through adolescence. And she’s like just this incredibly steady, steady person. And she has a phrase that I try to hold on to sometimes she says, “I just don’t let my mind go there.” And what she’s talking about is she’s had a lot of nights where one of her teenagers was out out late, wasn’t 1,000,000% sure where they were wasn’t 1,000,000% sure what the story was. And like all of us, as a loving parent, like her mind can start to go down some really scary roads of where you know what’s wrong, and what could go wrong. And I have really tried to hold on to that sometimes on my own parenting, I’ll just think, Okay, I’m going to learn from my friend, like, you don’t have to let your mind go there, especially if there is nothing you can do. You don’t have to torture yourself.

Reena Ninan
So much of what we create is in our head.

Lisa Damour
It can make it bad for ourselves. So do logical, rational things to you know, assure as much safety as you can. And then if you’re really, really struggling, think about what my friend has said to me. Does your mind have to go there?

Reena Ninan
That’s good. And next week, we’re gonna have a special guest on talking to us about how to raise a compassionate child. Dr. Traci Baxley will join us. I’ll see you next week.

Lisa Damour
I’ll see you next week.

The advice provided by Dr. Damour here will not and does not constitute - or serve as a substitute for - professional psychological treatment, therapy, or other types of professional advice or intervention. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being, consult a physician or mental health professional.

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