The late Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Travelled, tells a story of parents who gave their second son a Christmas gift of a rifle that their first son had used to take his own life. Scott Peck believed that he could help the second son, but not the parents, as he saw them as evil. I believe I could help the parents as well but what is ‘evil’ but only goodness tortured by its own thirst and hunger for love.
A gun is a lethal weapon and none more so than when put in the hands of a troubled and troubling young person. A car is also a lethal weapon and when a young person who is confused, dependent, fearful and defensively aggressive sits behind the driving wheel of a car we are all in danger. It needs to be recognised that many young people are responsible in their driving and we need to be wary of a knee jerk reaction to the recent Kerry and Donegal tragedies where so many precious young lives have been lost. Nevertheless, serious consideration on all our parts is required and a ‘community watch’ on young people’s driving recklessly and speeding needs to be implemented. Reporting to the police the registration numbers of cars is a first step but also, where possible, informing their parents is critical to the wellbeing of the young drivers and their passengers and, indeed, the rest of us.
The commonly voiced causes of the tragedies have been speeding and drinking. However, it is not speed and alcohol that kills, it is immaturity. How has it come about that a certain percentage of our young people over-drink alcohol, smoke pot and drive without caution and a sense of the precious cargo of self and friends in the car being driven? We know from research that there are at least 20 per cent of teenagers who are deeply troubled and what is alarming about that finding is that their inner distressed state goes undetected by adults. We also know that of those teenagers who are depressed and suicidal, only a small proportion of them talk to anybody about their inner turmoil. The deeper tragedy is their hidden turmoil and it is not wise that they drive a car because of the dangers of their acting out their troubled state. Of course, this is also true for adult drivers and the incidents of road rage testify to the immaturity of some adult drivers – again mostly male. With regard to distressed teenagers there is an urgent need to train parents, teachers, sports mangers to recognise the signs of teenage inner turmoil so that a lethal weapon is not put in their hands.
Two of the repeating aspects of these tragedies are the early morning occurrence of the accidents and the driver being a young male. The question that is abegging is how is it that young people who are under eighteen years of age are out into the early hours of the morning – without supervision or accountability for their behaviour? Parents have a crucial responsibility here and that is until young people are eighteen years of age parents need to know who they are with, their whereabouts, what they are doing, what time they are expected home and, if they are staying over with friends, have direct contact with the parents of their friends. And even when teenagers reach the legal adult age – no index of maturity – as long as they remain living at home they have a responsibility to let parents know the who, where, what of their activities and their return home time. In families where cooperation and courtesy are fostered from an earlier age, teenagers and young adults automatically adopt these responsibilities. However, in troubled families where parents are not psycho-socially prepared for the complex task of rearing children, all sorts of neglects occur from the young person’s earliest years. There is no attempt here to blame parents, but when conflict is a frequent occurrence, parents do have a responsibility to seek the support and help that they need, and, indeed, deserve. As a society – a collective of individuals – we need to create a climate of emotional safety for parents who are struggling to be open about the difficulties they are encountering.
The gender issue also needs examination. The first question that comes to mind is: do more young males get their first car before their female peers? A further consideration is the amount of thought parents put into the provision of a car for the young person. Certainly, if the young person is generally hostile, aggressive, moody, uncooperative, not forthcoming on how he feels about himself and not open to mature requests on the part of parents and teachers, then buying a car for this son is a recipe for disaster. If young people do not demonstrate responsibility in the everyday activities of living, why would parents expect them to be responsible drivers? Some parents may claim that purchasing the car was an attempt to motivate the young person, but the money would have been better spent on what was needed to create mature relationships within the family. The fact too that males are more likely to act-out their inner turmoil and self-esteem difficulties contraindicates them driving responsibly.
What is emerging from the foregoing is the dire necessity for parents to know their teenager, for their teenager to know himself or herself and for relationships to be of a loving and co-operative nature. More on these topics next week.
Dr. Tony Humphreys is a clinical Psychologist/Author/National and International Speaker and Director of several NUI courses on Communication, Parent Mentoring and Relationship Studies in Cork and Dublin. Details of these courses are available on his website www.tonyhumphreys.ie or contact Margaret at 021-4642394.