It’s the call that no parent wants but too many of us receive. “Mom, Dad, I’m at the police station. I’ve been charged with DUI.”
As you drive to pick up your wayward teen, your emotions range from relief that your child is safe to anger that she made such poor choices to anxiety about how this arrest will impact her future.
You’re not alone. Many parents in the U.S. have gone through this experience. The National Organization for Youth Safety says that 25 percent of all car crashes involved an underage drinking driver. The CDC reports that in 2014, 17 percent of drivers aged 16 to 20 who were involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes had a blood alcohol contact of .08 percent or higher.
While those facts may not make it any easier for you to accept that your child was drinking and driving, it does provide some perspective. Your teen is only doing what he sees many other teens doing. Of course, that can make dealing with the situation and getting your teen to acknowledge his wrongdoing more difficult.
Here are some tips for getting your teen (and you) through this tough time.
Get help. The repercussions of a teenage DUI in California can be very serious, especially if the DUI driver caused any deaths, injuries or property damage.
California is a zero-tolerance state, which means no matter how little alcohol your teen had in her system, she will face penalties. They can include a one year-suspension of her license, fines, mandatory alcohol education program and even time in jail or on probation.
To limit the damage, contact a qualified Los Angeles DUI defense attorney as soon as possible.
Discuss the incident calmly. Although your first instinct is probably to yell at your teen as soon as you get him home–and ground him for life–that’s not going to be helpful. You’ll both need some cooling off time, so you should probably postpone the discussion until the next day. Although it can be very difficult to get a teen to talk, your teen may be more communicative if she sees that you’re going to stay calm and keep your discussion fact-based.
Find out what happened. Who was your teen with? How much had she had to drink? What were the circumstances of the arrest?
Discuss the immediate consequences of your teen’s actions in a matter-of-fact way. The state (and you) will take away his driving privileges. How will he get to school, to sporting events, to his part-time job? What’s likely to happen in the next weeks? (This is another reason it’s helpful to have a lawyer’s guidance.)
Use the opportunity to educate. Over the next days and weeks, you can (again calmly) talk with your child about alcohol use and the dangers of illegal underage drinking. Unfortunately, alcohol use has become part of the culture on many (even most) high school and college campuses; if “everybody is doing it,” chances are good that your teen may not see anything wrong in her behavior. She probably never stopped to consider what could happen when she drinks and/or drinks and drives.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving recommends getting the talk started by asking a few questions. How does your teen think that alcohol affects the body? How does alcohol make a difference in the decisions that she and her friends make? What does she think could happen under those scenarios? (Of course, the DUI is one big consequence.)
Equip yourself with facts about DUI driving. Your teen may be more impressed by statistics about DUI and teens than by your opinions about it. You can tell him how many teens lose their lives to DUI each year. You might ask how he would feel if one of his friends had been badly injured or even killed as a result of the DUI.
Listen. This conversation should be a two-way street, and your teen should have the opportunity to make his points as well. (You don’t have to agree, but you can tell him calmly why you don’t agree.)
Inform yourself—and your teen–about the long-term implications. When your teen has a DUI, his already astronomical rates for auto insurance could soar even higher. If the DUI involved a collision that injured someone or caused property damage, you’ll also want to know what your liability could be there. (Although it might be too late for this instance, you might want to ask your insurance agent about an umbrella policy that could protect you from big losses in these circumstances.)
While you don’t have to share every detail of these discussions with your teen, she should understand how her arrest has impacted the family budget. You may decide that if she wants to continue to drive once she gets her license back, she’ll have to get a job to pay the higher insurance premiums.
Brace for the consequences of the DUI. He may now have a criminal record. He may be suspended or kicked off sports teams, may have trouble getting into the college of his choice and/or getting a scholarship or other financial assistance. (A guidance counselor might be able to suggest ways to minimize its effects on his academic career.)
Help him avoid future DUIs. Your teen needs to understand why driving DUI is a bad idea; and he also needs to have tools to make the right decisions when others around him are partying, drinking and driving. Assure him that if he gets in a situation where others are drinking, it’s okay for him to call you to extract him.
If you feel like you’re not getting through, you may want to seek out a therapist in your community who specializes in working with teens. Check to see if your employer offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that would cover therapy costs or provide referrals to therapists or substance abuse centers. The school counselor should also be aware of alcohol or substance abuse programs that could be appropriate for your teen.
Adopt your own non-tolerance policies. Examine your own behaviors when it comes to drinking and driving. Has your child seen you have a few drinks at a family event and then immediately get behind the wheel? Are you sending the wrong message?
Even if you’ve been somewhat tolerant of your teen’s drinking—maybe you did it when you were her age—it’s time to establish some hard and fast rules. The DUI has proved that she is not responsible enough to drink.
You might ask your teen to take a “sober driver” pledge or sign a contract with you. In return for your teen’s pledge to abstain from drinking and from drinking while driving, you promise to provide assistance when she needs it (i.e. getting her out of a party where her friends are drinking) and not to punish her when she requests such assistance.
When your teen gets a DUI, it can take some time to rebuild the trust you had in her and to help him get his life back on track. But as painful as this process can be, consider yourself (and your child) lucky. At least you get the chance to fix things. Many teens who have driven after drinking never do.