Thursday, September 29, 2011

They Came to the Right Place When They Asked Me to Write about Drunk Driving

This is a sponsored post.  That means somebody's paying me to mention their product and embed a video.  It doesn't mean I have to promote the product.  In fact, I'm ambivalent about it.


Here are a couple reasons that grownups think teenagers are idiots.
  1. They know some teenagers
  2. They were once teenagers themselves
I taught high school students for a few years, and still teach college underclassmen from time to time, and I would have to say that a lot of them don't have a lick of sense.  But my real understanding of the depths of teenage idiocy comes from my own experience.

My friends and I did a lot of stupid stuff when I was a teenager, even though there was nothing wrong with most of our brains.  I was one of the worst out of my group of stupid friends.

During much of my high school career, the couple years I "took off" afterward, and even into my college years, I made an art form of being irresponsible, unreliable, untrustworthy, and a danger to myself and others.  Some of my behavior might have been cute, harmless, and merely frustrating.  But driving drunk is in a different category.  It's simply indefensible.  And I did it. Frequently.

I don't have to tell you how horrible driving drunk is.  That's not what this post is about.  This is about how incorrigible, unreasonable, and unreachable some teenagers are.  Like I was.

There are dozens of stories I could share of close calls and terrible decisions I made behind the wheel, but here's perhaps the best illustration of what an idiot I was.  A week before the start of our senior year of high school, one of my best friends--a much more responsible and promising kid than me--crashed his car into a tree and was killed.  I was sitting in the back seat at the time.  I suffered a cracked vertebra in my neck that didn't end up being a big deal, but could have put me in a wheelchair.  We hadn't been drinking, but we were being stupid teenagers.

You'd think I would have gotten the message that driving a car is serious business.

You'd be wrong.

I became even more cavalier about drinking and driving.  Maybe I thought that the loss of my friend gave me a free pass.  I'm sure there was a lot of rationalizing, anesthetizing, and magical thinking going on; but the point is that even that trauma was not enough to get me to stop being an asshole.

My parents did the best that they could to protect me from myself.  They didn't know the extent of my recklessness, but they knew something was up.  They briefly got me into counseling (at the Army hospital, where I was too honest and the shrink was too rigid and the process did not have the desired effect), and at home we talked endlessly about my irresponsibility.  I didn't really resent these talks, and in fact was usually in agreement with them about what a jerk I was.  I suspect that my self-awareness made them think that I was trying to change.

Despite my recalcitrance, I had a good relationship with my parents.  But when it came down to it, there wasn't much they could do to control my behavior when I wasn't within arm's reach.  I was a slippery little fuck, and managed to avoid serious trouble.

If they would have had the technology to monitor me when I was out of the house, I don't know if they would have used it.  I know that I would have resented it if they had, and would have done whatever I could to circumvent it.

These days, of course, all kids have cell phones and no excuses to be out of contact with their parents.  And new products are coming out all the time that allow parents to track their kids with GPS, snoop on their facebook accounts, monitor their web browsing, and so forth.

The biggest issue with these products, as far as I'm concerned, is that in using them, you have to let your kids know that you don't really trust them.  Luckily, I don't have to think about that much right now, since my kids are 2 and I don't mind telling them that I don't trust them to do so much as eat a bowl of cereal by themselves, and if I could cheaply have chips embedded in their flesh that would allow me to track them with my iPhone, I would do it in a heartbeat.  Likewise, I don't have a problem with telling a teenager, " fact, I don't trust you.  I've been your age before."  At least I don't have a problem with it in theory.  But we'll see how I really deal with that when the teenager is my kid.


One of the new technologies that allows parents to keep tabs on their kids, even from great distances, is called Soberlink.  The idea is that kids carry this little breathalyzer that's linked to their smart phone.  It takes photo as the kid blows into it, and transmits all the data to their parents.

Here's a video explaining how it works: 


When I first looked at this, I started thinking about how you might trick the device, or otherwise get over on your watchful parents.  That was my wife's instinct too, and my teenaged nephew's when I asked them what they thought of the product.  My nephew (a responsible, non-stupid kid) figured that the guys he knows who are like I was as a kid would just ignore it.  I can only imagine how quickly that thing would have gotten "lost", "broken", "stolen", or just "not worked" if my parents had gotten one for me.

On the other hand, for kids who may just need a little more motivation to be responsible, or even an excuse to avoid peer pressure ("My stupid mom makes me breathe into this stupid thing!  Gah!"), it could possibly help prevent tragedy.

What do you guys think?  Could this thing work?  Would you use it on your kid?  Would it be a violation of trust and privacy?  Does that even matter when lives are at stake? 


  1. Thinking about myself as a teenager many, many years ago I think it would have helped me to keep from doing something stupid. But I was definitely a lot more naive than kids are today.

    I think that if the tools are out there to equip yourself and your kids to keep them from doing something dumb, then use them, what do you have to lose except a couple of bucks?

    As parents we tend to think of our children as grown-ups deserving of privacy and explanation of why we want them to do something or not do something. They aren't grown-ups and if you just think back to what you did as a teenager and how you would circumvent precautions your own parents set in place to prevent you from doing something you would realize that your kids are the same. We all think, "not my kid" but trust me honey...yes, your kid will and might be doing something stupid even as I type this.

  2. Disclosure: I do not have teenagers...yet.

    I can't imagine using this unless there was major reason. (I'm thinking along the lines of Lindsay Lohan.) I believe if you try to hold the leash too tight they will just fight more. I'm not saying let go and wish them luck but this seems like overkill. Granted, I was not a reckless kid. I rarely drank (still don't) but if my parents tried to make me do this I would have been seriously insulted. Unless I did something to completely lose their trust I think I would have rebelled.

  3. Yep. When I was 18, I was pretty grown-up intellectually and physically, but it was a long time before I caught up emotionally and ethically.

  4. I'm glad you survived the teenage years. Heck, yes, I'd use it. I think it should be a requirement for kids under 25. (From: Mom/stepmom of five ranging in age from 18 to 26.)

  5. Once,and once only,did I drink drive.My old local village pub was about a 20 minute walk.As a spotty 18 year old,back for the Easter hols from studies,I'd only intended to pop into The Ivy for one.Well it was soon hello Jack,fancy another etc etc.Woke the following morning and saw the car outside.I assumed the landlord must have dropped it off until I saw my keys on the side.I still have no memory of that drive home.

    As for your advert,can't get it over here so I've ignored it.

  6. I think that drunk driving is not a phenomenon limited to teenagers. I'd be interested in a product that made it so the car didn't start if you couldn't pass a breathalizer test (granted, I don't think they're foolproof, so I don't know if that's realistic).

    More to the topic at hand, though, I don't think I'd want to use this particular product. I might look into getting a breathalizer or similar alcohol detector as a tool for the kid to use on themselves without sending me the information. The point would be to teach self-regulation. "I trust you to not drink and drive. If you've had anything to drink, you should probably test yourself before getting behind the wheel. Make sure you have money for a cab or alternate means to get home or stay where you are overnight."

    In my opinion, being a helicopter parent means so many fewer learning opportunities for the kid to grow into a self-sufficient adult.

  7. I am the mom of two teenaged girls. BOTH driving. I don't need a breathalyzer for them but I do have a device on the cars that relays a monthly report on driving ability. (Average speed, quality of turns and stops, acceleration, braking...). It monitors their driving and mine as well. Most insurance companies offer this now.

    We look at it once a month and if they drive like crap, they don't drive. They can bitch all they want but since they both know that I am incapable of hearing whining and bitching, those frequencies are beyond my hearing range, they know they are wasting their breath.

    I have no problem letting them know I don't trust them. They have no life experience and no awareness of their own mortality so most of their decisions are made based on their desire rather than consequences.

    I have no need to be their friend, at least not yet. Maybe when they're adults. For now, I am content with being their mom, their caretaker, their disciplinarian, their life coach, their biggest fan, and their safety net.

  8. Wow - so glad you made it through those years without irreparable damage! Thanks for sharing so openly! As a youth worker, I know far too much about how impossible it can be sometimes to help teenagers survive and not kill others during those years!

    It is important as parents to remember what it was like to be a teenager -- and how hard it is to "grow up" and do the right thing. Hey we adults still need to work on it most days, even if we have learned things like not drinking and driving.

    Personally, I was built with a huge amount of fear and responsibility embedded in my brain since birth, so I never did anything like driving under the influence when I was a teenager. But knowing my kids personalities and the fact that most teenagers are not like I was, I will be trying to keep an open dialogue and protect them as best as I can.

    Will that device work? Of course it will depend on child and circumstance. I hope it does help some!!!

    Thanks again for your openness Andy - you are always so refreshing to read.

  9. Thanks for all the great comments, you guys!

  10. I'm pretty sure a blown up balloon stashed in the car before drinking would help circumvent parents and especially a car requiring a breath test before ignition.

  11. @ Candidia
    -Those devices actually do exist. (At least in my state I don't know how this law works elsewhere) when you get a DUI (or maybe it's after a certain number of DUIs) after your license is suspended for x months you must drive with a breathalyzer in your car for x months. You can get it installed at most car shops at your own expense. To prevent sober friends from blowing into it for you it randomly will require tests while you drive (I don't know what happens if you refuse to let it test you or you are drunk. Maybe it signals police or something)

    As for this device, if it takes pictures as they blow into it I'd imagine it could be rather difficult to get around. Assuming it wasn't "lost." I could putting some kind of cover over the tube then putting your mouth over, but if it requires several breaths it probably wouldn't work out.

    I don't have teens. As peachy as the commercial makes it sound I'd imagine a teen would feel rather offended if it was required unless I had a good reason/proof to suspect they'd been doing stupid crap. (maybe it'd be easier to present with a bonus. Curfew is still eleven, but if you take this you can stay out till one)I have mixed feelings on the "helicopter parents" thing. Some kids you just know are going to do stupid stuff without it (and probably will with it).

    @ Nari
    I like the car thing. "You want to drive? Then drive like my driver's report."

  12. I'd use it. I will use whatever it takes. Many teens are complete blockheads. Especially one of mine.

  13. This is the second blogpost in a row I've read about this product.

    I think you should review chastity belts next.

  14. I had a couple friends die in high school as a result of their drunken adventures and I went the exact opposite direction you did with regard to alcohol and driving. To this day, I won't have more than a single beer if I need to be driving. It's something that I impose on myself and I don't judge others for doing differently. After all, everyone handles alcohol differently.

    My kid's behavior would inform my use of the iHoochsniffer.If he shows he's responsible, I'm not going to preemptively shackle him. But if he's constantly screwing up, I might use that device. Actually, if he's always screwing up, I'm pretty sure I'd have problems beyond the iHoochsniffer's scope of effectiveness.

  15. @Sarah P--I would totally do a sponsored post for chastity belts. Know anyone in the business? Also, have you bought an iHoochsniffer yet?

    @Frank--Well, you had the right reaction. Good for you. Yeah, I'm with you. I think I would only consider this if there had already been some problems.

  16. I don't think it'll work on the basis of principle. Keep a tighter leash and the dog will just get suffocated. What kids need are parents who are willing to enforce severe punishment if they have to, not this castrated "let's talk it out" bullshit. Call me Draconian, but sometimes all you need is a little fear. I don't mean resorting to physical abuse, but you notice that American teenagers have it WAY too easy. They get pulled over for DUI, what do their parents do? Spend money on lawyers and endless amount of time trying to exonerate them.

    My parents trust me. Like literally, they don't tell me what to do because they expect me to do the right thing, and when I disappoint them, they'll have me feeling SO remorseful that I'd actually undergo a personality change. It's a matter of enforcement - through positivity or punishment, it's up to the type of kid. You can never protect someone from themselves. They'd have to face their own monsters and the consequences.

  17. You bet I would have used any device available to keep my kid safe and me out of the looney bin! Nobody knows anguish until he has a wild and crazy kid. The trust part is where the parent believes that the kid is basically good and intelligent and that he will mature someday.

  18. As the daughter of Asian immigrants I find it *fascinating* how people my age whose parents were born here talk about "privacy" issues with their kids as if it's something they deserve.

    The way I was raised, if you wanted privacy you were welcome to enjoy it in the coffin that you would be inhabiting once my parents murdered you for even suggesting that you could have any.

    I will give Mom props, though, for something she always used to say to me before I went out in the evening, "It's not that I don't trust you, I don't trust what can happen in the world and I don't trust that I've prepared you for it yet."

    On the matter of this product, I wonder how effective it would be... well, if you don't trust your kid enough to let them go out without electronic monitoring... um, maybe that kid shouldn't be going out at all.

    Once again, going out? Having friends? Enjoying yourself? ANYthing besides homework, shelter, clothing and food (in that order)? Not a right. A privilege. It's how we rolled, and we turned out okay. Fairly.


  20. Being a teenager and behind the wheel should be considered a 'right of passage' and a privilege. Loved the driving report - I'd prefer it daily (only 3 years away for us to have another possible driver). Trusting a teenager is hard but parents are parents to guide them - my folks called before any party to ensure parental supervision. On a personal note, I had no idea about your neck. On the police record, it did come back as 'driver error' even though you hoped it would be car malfunction. By the way, you have had and still do have as much promise as Scott. You are raising two beautiful little girls and doing the best that you can!

  21. I think I'll just hire my child a chauffeur.


Don't hold back.


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