Toddlers can’t drive. But teenagers can. The two have a lot in common, something parents of teens need to think about long and hard. Both groups are undergoing periods of intense brain restructuring, making them impulsive and unpredictable.
Parents can laugh off the little, bitty” “terrible twos” tantrum occurring in the high chair. But teen behavior impacts the way that teenagers drive, too often with fatal results, since teens are risk takers without mature judgement, just like toddlers in many ways. The similarities are striking.
The brains of toddlers in the midst of their “terrible twos” are undergoing major “intellectual, social and emotional changes,” according to the Mayo Clinic. So are teens. Their brains are like a “massive construction project,” according to a research article in Psychology Today.
Toddlers in the midst of the “terrible twos” are caught in a struggle between “reliance on adults and their desire for independence.” So are teens. Toddlers grin one minute and throw a toy across the room the next. Teens, impulsive and unpredictable too, forget to wear seat belts or have such fun with friends while driving that they don’t pay attention to traffic.
The Mayo Clinic has very effective advice for beleaguered parents of two year olds about handling testy little toddlers until they outgrow the terrible twos, usually by age 3. Parents of toddlers only have to endure one year of erratic behavior. Parents of teenagers have tougher jobs. Researchers say the brain does not entirely mature until the mid-twenties. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control reveal the sad impact on teen drivers.
According to the CDC, “Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens.”
Sixteen to 19-year olds have more accidents than any other group of teens. Although these teens are only 14% of the U.S. population, “they account for 30% of the total cost of vehicle injuries among males ($19 billion) and 28% ($7 billion) of the total cost of motor vehicle injuries among females.”
The CDC accident statistics also show how often teens underestimate dangers on the road or fail to recognize them. Teenage boys are more likely to engage in risky driving behavior than teen girls. But both have the “lowest rate of seat belt use” among all drivers on the road.
According to the CDC, 55% of teens between the ages of 13 and 19 who died in passenger vehicle crashes in 2012 were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident. Teens are far more likely to speed, tailgate and text and talk while driving. Drinking and driving is fairly common among teenage boys, especially late on weekend nights, the most dangerous time to be on the road.
The Centers for Disease Control has excellent advice for parents to help teens perfect their driving skills in a program called “Parents Are the Key.” As the CDC says, teenagers’ “lack of driving skills together with their risk taking behavior puts them at heightened risk for crashes.” Unfortunately, that’s a lot bigger problem for parent and child than throwing a toy across the room.