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‘Great kid’ drove after drinking: No big deal?

For this week’s column I’m answering questions from readers.

Q: My 17-year-old son was recently caught drinking alcohol. He admitted that he drove to a friend’s house after a party where they watched a football game and had several beers. He is an honor student, a great kid and has never given me any problems.

I don’t want to make too big a deal about this, but his dad disagrees. We are divorced and generally try to present a united front with the kids, but I think my ex-husband, as usual, is being way too harsh.

A: Your son was driving a car after drinking, endangering himself and others. I suspect you’d feel very differently if he got into an accident and injured himself or others.

The Centers for Disease Control report that about 10 percent of teens drink and drive a car, and are 17 times more likely to die in an auto accident if they have a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent. That can be as little as three beers depending upon your son’s size.

You need to send a strong message that engaging in a behavior that endangers himself and others is a very serious offense. I’d take his driver’s license away for six months.

Q: Our 14-year-old foster child told us something in confidence that happened to him when he was younger. We feel his caseworker should be told about his, but I don’t want to break the trust this child has placed in us. We gave him our word that he could talk with us about anything, and now we don’t know what to do.

A: You made a mistake if you promised or implied confidentiality to this teen. If you feel this information should be disclosed to his caseworker, encourage your foster child to have that conversation. I’ve found that many kids do well with writing something out rather than having to speak directly with the person.

Give your foster child a reasonable amount of time to figure this out, but you’ll need to speak with the caseworker if your teen refuses to do so. Please be certain to tell him beforehand, and explain why you decided to break your promise.

Q: Is it possible for an 11-year-old to be addicted to video games?

A: Some kids have a normal passion for video games, but there can be a thin line between dedication and addiction. Place some reasonable limits on his playing such games, and monitor the content of what he is playing.

The key issue is how he is doing in other aspects of his life. Are his grades consistent with his potential? Does he have meaningful friends? Does he pursue other hobbies? Does he interact well with family? If you have any concerns, speak with your family doctor about a referral to a mental health professional.

Next week: Does financial success cause happiness?

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