Keys, Please: ‘Rules of the Road’ When Your Kid Gets Into Trouble

By Debby Shulman

It’s a whole new world out there when our kids get their drivers licenses and begin to enjoy the freedom that driving provides. Top that with being able to get to parties without your knowledge and heading off into places unknown on a Saturday night, and you’re looking at potential trouble.

I do not care how good your teen is or how much you trust them; underage drinking is everywhere and along with weed, they are the two biggest culprits for Saturday Night Trouble.

Nobody is immune. I have said that to girlfriends for the last six years. Ever since my eldest got his license, it was assumed that someone at some point was going to do something stupid. Tired of people carrying on about the damn “blotter” in the local newspaper, we canceled our subscription years ago.  Sick of reading about people who we truly liked go through a hard time with their teen was awful. Who were we to judge? I didn’t want to know. I wanted to give them the privacy that these matters deserve. After all, one day, it could be my kid.

So what do we do? 

I know we are all talking to our teenagers, sending a message that is clear and concise. I know we are all pointing to accidents of the past and preaching don’t drink and drive. But inevitably, someone is going to make a mistake.

Alcohol poisoning? Walking drunk along the sidewalk?  Getting pulled over with weed in your pocket? It’s all there and happening every single weekend. Before you get that dreaded phone call, know what to tell your teenage kids before the police pulls them over.

Have a candid discussion about the ramifications relating to the biggest question of all: “Do you blow or not blow?”

GIRLilla Warfare and Adolescent Law Expert Shelby Prusak offer some invaluable legal insight on what to do if your child gets into trouble.

The following are her professional guidelines, to be used in conversation with your teenagers. Keep in mind that every situation is unique and that these are general recommendations for you to use.  It is wise to always consult an attorney privately when your child has made a poor choice, and it is advisable to know whom you’re going to call when that happens.

Shelby Prusak has been an attorney for 25 years, serving first as a public defender and now as principal in her own law firm, specializing in all criminal matters. A former Adjunct Professor at the DePaul University School of Law, Ms. Prusak is widely recognized for her success in handling teens in the court system.  As the mother of two young adults and the member of a local community, she is well versed in the realities of raising teens along the “mean streets” of Suburbia.  She speaks publicly on what to do when it is YOUR child behind the wheel or in the passenger seat.

Abstinence, when it comes to drinking, drugs and driving is ALWAYS the best policy.  That said, should your teen be in a situation in a car, where there are drugs or alcohol involved, there are some things that your child must be aware of. Please note: This is about your child’s rights — not what’s right and wrong. It goes without saying: Underage drinking and any kind of drug use is unacceptable and illegal, and GIRLilla Warfare does not promote or condone these activities in any way, nor do we feel that anyone has the right to skirt the law. We treasure and value our local law enforcement. This is a need-to-know guideline of personal rights:

  1. Obey the police officer’s instructions.  Resisting or obstructing an officer, whether the arrest is a valid one or not, is a SERIOUS OFFENSE and an easy line to cross. Hence, have your teens understand the importance of listening to exactly what is being said to them.
  2. Be Respectful.  No matter how unjust the situation may seem to you, do not complain.  If you are behind the wheel and you get stopped, the first thing you must do is have your insurance card and license ready for the officer as he approaches your car. Remain in your seat.  If you are a passenger, stay put and do not speak.
  3. Do not talk to the police without your parent or attorney.  Of course, you MUST reply to his questions regarding your identity, your license, and insurance, but if you are in breach of the law, you have the right to remain silentAdmitting guilt essentially means your case is over.  You have the right to remain silent or to speak to a lawyer at this point.  USE IT.  Do so politely, but DO UTILIZE THIS RIGHT.
  4. Do not take a Breathalyzer if you have been drinking within the last 24 hours. Do not submit to a urine or blood test if you have smoked marijuana within the last 30 days.  These tests will only serve to close the case against you without room for explanation.
  5. Do NOT carry alcohol or drugs on you or in the car.  The minute you get behind the wheel your privacy rights decrease.  The moment the police stop you and have reason to suspect drugs or alcohol, the search begins.  That means not only your person, but your car as well.  If drugs are found in your car, it then becomes subject to loss and impoundment by the village or county.

I offer these few suggestions as a starting base for a discussion that parents must have with your teens as both a driver and as a passenger. This by no means covers the wide variety of legal situations that our teens and young adults may find themselves in, but serves as a set of guidelines that our teenagers must be aware of.  Moreover, it is not an attempt to help them “outsmart” the law, because of course, that will NOT happen. Rather, consider this a well-intentioned attempt to help them keep their bright futures clean from those very common and bad choices we hope they refrain from.

We all hope that while many of our teens will experiment and push the limits of our patience, they will listen when you read them this list of helpful suggestions.  Having your feelings known is one thing, but offering strategies for the ‘what if’ is just as invaluable. Most importantly, know when to seek out legal assistance for you teen and be aware of what your rights are.

Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: Debby Shulman is a college essay consultant and academic tutor with a private practice in Northbrook, Illinois.  She also professionally collaborates with Amy Simon College Consulting in Bannockburn, Illinois.  Debby also blogs about Motherhood/Teen issues for Your Teen magazine (www.yourteenmag.com). Check out her valuable advice. 




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