“What I’d really like, dad, is to borrow the car keys. See you later. Can I have them please?” Singing along with Harry Chapin in my teens, I wasn’t thinking of the day when those words would scare the expletives out of me. Fast forward; and here I am, 43 with a 15 year old son who is learning to drive; and I watch his nostrils flair as he starts smelling his imminent independence. Man, am I starting to feel like Mom and Dad must have felt. I’m reluctant to admit that I was not the model of safety when I tooled around South Miami and Coconut Grove in my sky-blue Cutlass 442 all the age of 17. To pay for gas, I got a job working in restaurants; and the late-night hours on weekends coupled with a partying cast of older work mates brought me many opportunities to engage in less than honorable conduct. There were many nights I should never have been driving, but at 17, I had little fear.
Fast forward again and I’m the veteran of hearing many a sad tale of parents whose children have either died or suffered serious injury as a result of their own or a friend’s inebriated exploits behind the wheel. Fearing my son is too much like I was, I’m afraid. Like many parents, I know there is little we can do to keep our kids safe when they leave the cocoon, but I’m going to try. I’ve made a deal with my son which I’ve been thinking about a lot lately; and I thought I’d share it.
It’s called a Safety Contract. It’s a deal you make with your teen and a friend of yours or any adult you can trust, but more importantly, someone with whom your teen feels comfortable and can trust. First, you take a deep breath and acknowledge that while you may think your teen is an angel, there are times when they are not; and part of being a teen is exploring and making your own mistakes. Knowing there will be times when your teen will either cave to peer influence or be the passenger of someone who should not be driving when it’s time to come home, you make a deal that goes like this.
The teen promises to call the adult friend whenever (even at 2am) he perceives himself in an unsafe situation where he needs help. The adult promises to drop everything and be there for your teen. Here’s the catch — the adult is prohibited from telling you. They are the knight in shining armor that potentially saves your child’s life; and they must, in order for this to work, resist the temptation to let you know. Otherwise, it does not work. Any benefit you and your teen might realize by your knowing what your teen has been up 10 is less important than the safety net you purchase by sticking to the deal. If your child is having repeated problems, then hopefully your own parenting skills will alert you to it without the need of’ your child’s guardian angel whispering in your car.
The deal can be, but does not have to be, in writing. Being a lawyer, I was tempted to draw up papers, but resisted. The only benefit 10 putting it in writing would be 10 solemnize the agreement. There are many permutations to such an agreement. It can be reciprocal, where you agree to be the guardian for your teen’s guardian’s teen. But that only works if your friend’s teen trusts you. You can enter into this agreement with a group of your friends and have a pool of guardians. You may not be able to reciprocate for your teen’s guardian, but you can make a promise along the lines of the theme of the movie, “Pay it forward,” and agree to make yourself available as a guardian to someone else’s teen.
This agreement may not save anyone’s life. Your teen may suffer a lapse in judgment by not calling the guardian when they should. However, if the Safety Contract saves the life of just one person, it would certainly be worth the effort. Both the shame and the beauty of it is, if it works, you’ll never know. Be safe.