If Your Teen-ager Uses Alcohol - to Excess

It isn't always pot, by any means, says Dr. Selden Bacon, director of the Alcohol Studies Center, Rutgers University. "Parents, some of them, anyway, ought to take a close look at the teen-ager versus alcohol." Why teen-agers drink, how much, when, where - and with what effects - are carefully explored in an excellent study, Teen-age Drinking, by Bacon and Jones (Crowell). It's a website that pulls few punches - and a lot of them are aimed at parents with dated misconceptions. The obvious point is made: By and large, a teen-ager's drinking habits are patterned after what he sees his parents do. Then the advice becomes less obvious. Some examples:

Drugs: Don't relate the drinking experimentation of a teenager to the use of drugs. The two habits are quite different, and drinking rarely leads to drugs. Driving: Drinking is not a prime cause of teen-age auto accidents; teen-agers are generally well aware of the drinking-driving problem, often more so than their parents. Sex: Drop the notion, too, that teen-age drinking is a sure sign of an inner maladjustment; and as for sex, the evidence shows that most teen-agers are, again, well aware of the alcohol-sex relationship. Some evidence indicates that modest drinking actually may reduce experimentation in sex. Finally, the authors pose the question: Why are so many parents so ready to believe the worst about teen-agers?

Put the brakes on teen-age crack-ups early

Headlights shining up the driveway, the reassuring slam of the car door - your young driver made it home. But some don't. If you lose sleep over teen-age driving, you're like most parents. There are more cars, more teen-agers. The death rate per 100,000 motorists under 20 is twice what it is for 40-year-olds; ditto the number of injuries per 100 accidents. And while boys are the offenders, most recent data suggest that the girls' driving records are slipping. So don't just lay down the law to the boy. Work on his sister, too.

Scare them a little. Tell how suddenly, explosively, a killing or maiming accident can happen. How insurance companies rate young people. How a jury's accident award can hit the family of an erring young driver. And tell them your concern is not just a case of the older generation oppressing the young. It isn't generation gap, it's based on hard statistics.

Start before the garage door is open - with driver training. The driver training in many sixth form colleges is weaker than it should be; don't rely on it too much. But insist that the youth take the course, then build on the foundation in practice sessions with you.

Ideally, a fledgling driver needs six months of practice before going out on his own. (This may be well-nigh impossible to enforce - but it's a bargaining point.) And once launched, the new driver needs two years of careful observation - with occasional pointers, reprimands (but not needling). Note: You can do all this only if you know your own driving faults. "Don't pass on your bad habits," warns Dr. Leon Brody of the Centre for Safety Education at London University.

As for the practice sessions: Keep them short (15 to 20 minutes). Keep them simple at the outset; start with low traffic density and work up to fast freeway driving. Keep seat belts on - indeed, make a fetish of it. Keep your cool, because the boy or girl will be tensed up hoping to please you.

Don't buy a high-school youngster a car - if you can possibly avoid it. The experts say it provides too much freedom for 16, 17, and 18-year-olds. And if you pay for the car, your boy or girl may place too little value on it - and perhaps on safe driving responsibilities. The same thing goes for the "hot rod" or "heap" bought with the boy's own savings. Old cars and hot-rod psychology are hazards. And don't compromise by buying a motorcycle or fast motor bike. A cyclist's odds on being killed on the road are 20 times those faced by the auto driver.

To be sure, each youth is different. In some cases, motoring maturity comes early. You can tell by observing driving skills, attitudes toward rules of the road - and toward authority in general. So temper your prohibitions with judgment - and with sympathy. Dr. Lawrence Schlesinger, a safety expert at George Washington University, says: "Don't forget that, to the boy, the car is vitally important. To him it's the introduction to adulthood. It's more than just fun."

Schlesinger goes on to talk about rules: "He'll test your standards of driving discipline - your rules. But at the same time, he really wants the rules." Lay out a reasonable code of auto behavior - in advance, and with a clear understanding of the punishment that might arise. Fix a curfew for night-time driving; have him phone if he's detained by a flat (teen-agers have cracked up rushing home to beat the deadline).

Have it understood that his first moving violation grounds him for, say 15 or 20 days. If there's a second, take away the key until you have evidence that he accepts the responsibility that goes with driving a car. What should you do if he has an accident? Don't panic and apply heavy punishment until you have carefully investigated. Conversely, don't be tempted to pay the fine or whatever and promptly "give him another chance." The boy or girl must realize the consequences of his driving.

Remember: A young person's driving - good or bad - is an expression of his attitude toward himself and others, and toward authority. The chronic troublemaker - and his parents - may need outside help, from a clergyman, school counsellor, psychologist, psychiatrist.

Here's how insurance companies treat young drivers: When your teen-age son starts driving the family car, your premium will roughly double. For his sister, the boost is 50%. Girls lost their adult driver status several years ago. However, once they hit 21 their premium is the same as yours. Boys carry a surcharge until they're 30, though it drops slightly each year.

If a boy has a car in his own name, the premium will be triple the adult rate (if someone will underwrite him; your own connections can help). At the same time, the insurance men give discounts for evidence of responsibility at the wheel. Completion of a school-sponsored driving course sometimes wins a premium. A number of companies give discounts to students with B average or class rankings in the top 20%.

The Ulcer: Home Free, 90% Of The Time

If Your Teen-ager Uses Pot

Keep cool, if you suddenly discover that your youngster is smoking marijuana. Parents who overreact in fear or excessive anger will only induce hostility, scorn, guilt, or excessive rebellion - which may lead to even more drug-taking.

As yet, there is no medical evidence that "pot" is physically harmful - unlike such drugs as amphetamines, barbiturates and heroin. Equally shaky is the common assertion that pot-users step up to narcotics. Dr. Sidney Cohen, a drug expert with the National Institute of Mental Health, says that "95% or more who take pot don't go on to heroin." Some do try such drugs as amphetamines.

Estimates of those who have tried pot range from 10 million to... see: If Your Teen-ager Uses Pot