Teaching Teens Commonsense Precautions: 2 Scary Stories from My Own Life

All the safety precautions and home security systems in the world are for naught if we lack the commonsense necessary to avoid adversity in the first place—and to handle it well when it happens. For us grownups, that commonsense is something we develop as we get older and learn from experience. Our kids, however, don’t have it yet…or at least most kids don’t. (There are undoubtedly some children born with more commonsense than others, but my own experience has taught me they are in the minority!)

We as parents and guardians therefore have to take our safety lessons to another level with the teenagers, to spell things out for them. Just because we give kids car keys and house keys doesn’t mean they’ve keyed in to commonsense security and safety precautions. We have to give them that too.

I had two things happen this past winter with my youngest child that made me keenly aware of how differently the teenaged brain works, and how important it is that I stress safety and security with that teenage brain as a result…because she’s not going to think of it on her own. She is a bright kid who does well in school, but the intellectual ability that makes her book smart doesn’t automatically translate into being smart about practical matters.

Lesson 1: Give details about locations
One afternoon this past winter, we had a major windstorm in our area. I was home alone because my husband was at work and my daughter had gone shopping after school with a friend. We knew this huge windstorm was coming although it hadn’t started yet, and when my daughter sent a text asking if she could go out to dinner with her friend before coming home, I stupidly said yes. By the time she headed home, the storm was raging, trees were falling left and right, and a power line was down blocking the road and she had to take a detour…which meant she got lost. This kind of thing could have happened to anyone, and the first lesson to be learned here is that I should have told her to get home before the windstorm started.

On her end, what she failed to do was tell me where the detour was. Without power, I didn’t have a working landline, and we live in the boonies where cell phones only work for texting…and only when the weather is halfway decent. When she sent the text telling me about the detour, I didn’t have a way to get back to her. Quite a long time went by and she didn’t come home, and I got quite worried. Then I got a text saying “I’m lost” but not saying where.

What was I to do? I couldn’t go looking for her because I had no idea where she was. That was a long, agonizing couple of hours not knowing where she was and waiting for her to finally get home (and when she did, I cried tears of relief, I confess).

The lesson here for her was to tell me her whereabouts. Where was the detour? Where was she lost? We had a discussion about her giving me those kinds of details as a precautionary measure. (Although I realize now it’s a conversation we will need to have more than once, and when she’s on the road in normal circumstances too.)

Lesson 2: Plan ahead and keep that cell phone charged
Another time, her car broke down on the side of the road several miles from home and her cell phone had died. It was 10 o’clock at night and she had been helping out at a school play in town. She had to knock on doors to find someone at home in order to borrow the phone to call me for help. We were incredibly lucky that her car broke down near houses and not in a remote area which is what much of our road is, plus we were lucky that she chanced upon a house with people who were safe and nice. (The first house she went to she found no one home. And remember, we live in the boonies. If her car had broken down elsewhere on the road, she could have had a long walk ahead of her to find a long driveway to knock on a door and possibly find no one home…or someone not trustworthy.)

She made three mistakes that night. She had lost her car charger some time before and not taken responsibility for replacing it. She had stayed in town longer than she should have that night. And she let her cell phone battery get down to 3% and figured that was fine.

The lessons here? Keep that cell phone charged, and think about things like what time she will be on the road. (She got a new car charger and she has been much better about keeping the battery charged since then.)

Lesson 3: We can’t assume these kids will make the right choices
I tell you these two stories not to publicly shame my daughter, but to illustrate how poorly equipped the teen brain can be to prepare for adversity, no matter how smart they might seem. And that’s why we as the grownups must add these teachings to the other security and safety practices we are implementing in our lives. It’s a stretch for me, even after these two things happened, because I tend to be a bit of a hands-off parent anyway, and I want to show the kids respect by assuming they are able to figure some of these commonsense things out. Both of these stories, however, tell me otherwise. And this need to instruct teens in commonsense in order to be safe applies to other areas of life too, like online behavior and use of social media.

So in addition to the home security system and other safety precautions, maybe we need to add “talks with teens” to the steps we take to keep our homes and families safe and secure!

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