Convince Teens to Stay Sober at Parties by Explaining What It Means to Them

You may remember watching a VHS tape as a teenager in the driver’s class that showed the very, very bad and terrible things that can happen when you drive too fast on the highway. It was believed that in order to raise safe drivers, you need to cause them nightmares for several months. Growing up in the 80s, my childhood was filled with these scare tactics – car crash scraps were on display on the school lawn, DARE police programs lectured on imprisonment, and thatdamn fried egg ad that ran between all my daytime cartoons.

Was any of this very effective in helping us make better choices? Not at all, according to research by Jess Shatkin, author of the new book Born Wild: Why Teens Take Risks and How We Can Keep Them Safe . “It is clear that our efforts to teach adolescents how to think about risk have little or no effect on their risk behavior and often make things worse.” (DARE, in particular, demonstrated the presence of a boomerang effect – when a certain type of child ordered not to do something, this could lead to the fact that he did it out of spite.)

This has a lot to do with the way a teen’s brain works. In the bestselling book Thinking Fast and Slow, author Daniel Kahneman describes two types of thought processes that are important for decision making: fast System 1 (intuitive, automatic, emotional, reward-oriented) and slow System 2 (demanding, analytical, conscious). In the past, adults have tried to appeal to System 2 when teaching risky behavior to adolescents, but this thought process can only be built on the basis of maturity and experience, which adolescents have not yet achieved. Instead, Shatkin explains that parents should instead try to reach out to the part of their teens’ brains that functions normally — the abdominal striatum, or “their large neural reward center.”

“Threatening adolescents with death is not very effective in most cases,” he writes. Teens want to know the benefits of making the right decisions. Shatkin gives several examples of how parents can change their language. These are the so-called “positive opposites” :

  • Say, “Study hard at school to go to any college you like,” but don’t say, “If you don’t study hard, you won’t go to a good college.”
  • Say, “Drive carefully tonight so you can use the car next week,” but don’t say, “If you don’t drive carefully, you could get hurt.”
  • Say, “Take your allergy medicine to play baseball tomorrow,” but don’t say, “If you don’t take your allergy medicine, your allergy will only get worse.”

The positive opposite, as Shatkin notes, tells the child what to do and not what not to do. “By focusing on common values ​​that parents and their teens share, such as being a good friend, positive opposites can promote safe behavior,” he writes. “For example, if your teen is out with a group of friends or attending a party, encouraging restraint and sobriety is unlikely to be very effective. In other words, the phrase “don’t drink” can go unnoticed. But you can motivate your daughter to abstain from alcohol (or limit her drinking) by building on the values ​​of friendship and loyalty. By staying sober, she can help and protect, for example, her friend who often drinks too much and gets into trouble. “

“It is important to anticipate dangers and be prepared for them,” Shatkin explains. He writes that parents should “follow Wayne Gretzky’s advice and skate where the puck goes.”


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