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7 Tips on How to Handle a Teenager’s Car Accident

Calls in the middle of the night are never good. Neither is the one when you say “Hello” and your teenager is crying on the other end. Your heart immediately drops because you know they are hurting. That’s the phone call I received recently when my daughter was in her first car accident.

car accidentShe had just left basketball practice and was traveling at the legal speed on a country road. As she came up over a small hill, cars were stacked up four deep waiting for someone to turn left. She wasn’t on her phone but admittedly was a little tired and distracted. By the time she realized what was happening in front of her, it was too late to brake in time. The truck she was driving rear-ended the last car in the line. The driver of that car had her foot slip off the brake and hit the accelerator, propelling her down into the ditch. On the way, she clipped the car in front of her.

As rear-end car accidents go it wasn’t pretty. Our airbag deployed. The car she hit had damage in the back end and the front, as it hit a telephone pole when it went to the ditch. And the third car had minor bumper damage. In the end, our used truck – that we had owned for less than a month – was totaled.

Thankfully, everyone was OK. No hospital visits were needed. And the people involved were pretty nice about it. I think they could see how upset this 16-year old girl was having caused her first accident.

I hope I never have to take that call again from any of my other kids. Odds are I will. But as the oldest child often does, she broke new ground and helped us figure out how to deal with a teenager’s car accident. Here are 7 things I learned from the incident.

Day One of Dealing with Your Teen’s Car Accident

There is a lot that goes through your mind when you get that phone call. The reactions you have in the moment are critical. But it’s just not the day-of-accident issues you have to pay attention to. There will be an aftermath to this that can extend for weeks or maybe months depending on the makeup of your child. But on day one, here are three things you must try and do:

1. “Are you OK?”

These three words better be the first ones that come out of your mouth when your crying child calls. Even if you are irate beyond belief that the car is damaged, you can’t go there first. All your initial comments should be about the health of your child and the others involved in the accident.

This is more traumatic than you think for a teenager. They will think they’ve failed themselves and you. And they intuitively know they’ve just cost you money. So, reassuring them that it was “just an accident” and that they are not a failure is key.

My go-to line the day of the accident to comfort my daughter ended up being, “Metal can be replaced…people can’t.” I just wanted her to know that she was more valuable to me than any material possession we own. Her health and safety was paramount above all else.

2. Get to the scene

If there is any way possible, get to the scene of the accident while the cleanup and investigation are in progress. If you can’t make it, send a relative, close friend, neighbor, co-worker or your pastor. This is really important for several reasons.

First, your presence will provide emotional support for your child. They will need it. But you also will provide a buffer from the other individuals in the accident. Not all adults will be so understanding of a teenager’s mistake.

Additionally, you will get to see the accident scene and gain a better understanding of what happened. Your teen’s emotions are going to be off the scale right after the accident. Consequently, they may not be able to remember exactly what happened. Seeing the scene will help you reconstruct the accident.

This will prove helpful when talking it through later with your child. You will need to talk about it several times to help them process and deal with the incident. But seeing the scene will also help as you describe what happened to your insurance agent.

3. Have them listen in on the insurance call

At some point the day of the accident (or the next day at the latest), you will need to place a call to your car insurance company. They need to know the details of the car accident, so they can begin processing the paperwork that will lead either to a car repair or a totaling of your vehicle. Have your child nearby to listen when you make this call.

Why is this a big deal? For one, your insurance agent may ask questions about the accident that you failed to ask your child. Your teen might need to fill in more details.

Furthermore, and maybe more importantly, this is a way for your child to take a step into the grown-up world. Insurance is something most teens don’t fully understand. By participating and listening to you talk with your agent, they can learn the value of insurance. That will prove beneficial to them in the years to come as they grow into adulthood.

Related Content: A Comprehensive Look at Auto Insurance and Why You Need It

In the Aftermath of Your Teen’s Car Accident

The intensity of emotion will never be as bad as on day one. The crash site will be cleaned up and the car towed away and out of sight. But don’t be deceived that once your child’s head hits the pillow that night, things will be OK the next day…or the next day…or the next day. There are things you need to watch out for and things you need to do in the aftermath of the accident.

4. Dealing with people who find out

It was bad enough your child had to live through this with you. Now, they will have to live through it again and again with everyone that finds out. People will want to know what happened. And your teen is going to have to tell them the story.

Now, most people will express their concern in the right way and try to make your child feel better. However, you might need to watch out for the comments of other teens. Teens have a way of saying things that make other teens feel uncomfortable. That may happen at school as word of the accident begins to spread.

So, interact with your teen and try and find out what other people are saying. You may have to counteract the comments being said with positive statements of your own.

Also, be sensitive on how many people you tell. Your teen might not want many people to know. And definitely get their permission before you write about it on your blog!

Additionally, be careful how you tell the story, especially when your teen is around. They will be listening and picking up on any negative vibes you give out as you re-tell the story. With one comment or a negative tone in your voice, you could undo all the goodwill you built up when you were so sensitive to them on day one.

5. Reinforce the responsibility of driving

When your teen started driving, you probably had “the talk.” It probably started something like this – “Driving a car is a big responsibility…”. You will need to have this talk again.

For one, they may have forgotten. Once you know how to drive, you know how to do it. In a way, it becomes second nature. And when you do it so often, it’s easy to dismiss the realities of what could happen if you are irresponsible behind the wheel.

So, don’t be afraid to lay out again the potential consequences of driving while distracted, or driving too fast, or driving and texting at the same time. Put simply and bluntly, people can die. Your teen needs to hear that.

Just make sure they are ready to hear that. Don’t talk about this on day one. Give it a few days before you have the responsibility and consequences talk.

But be prepared for this…there is a very good chance during this discussion your teen will relive the accident. They will remember all that did happen and be overwhelmed by thoughts of what might have happened. It will likely be emotional meltdown time (i.e. they will have a good cry). If that happens, it’s time to step back in and be comforting again.

6. Get them driving again soon

Your teen is going to be hesitant behind the wheel. They may feel like they can’t trust themselves or other drivers anymore. It’s completely understandable.

But do your best to get them back out driving again soon. You don’t want the memories to linger to the point where they paralyze your child. Let the emotion settle for a few days (maybe a week) and then have them drive again. Force them if you have to.

But don’t force them right away into driving by themselves. The first few times they get behind the wheel again, let it be with you in the car. That will give them a sense of security and comfort having you sitting in the passenger seat. Plus, it will give you a chance to watch their driving habits again if you haven’t been doing so and correct anything you might see.

7. Sharing in the financial consequences

There is no way of getting around the financial consequences of a car accident. Personal property has been damaged. It will need to be repaired or replaced and that is going to cost money. Additionally, your car insurance rates are likely going up so that is going to affect how you manage your monthly budget. Someone is going to have to pay for all this and it’s going to be you – the parent.

Related Content: The Ultimate Guide on How to Make the Best Monthly Budget

However, my suggestion is that you make your child share in the financial burden somehow. I’m not suggesting they pay for all the repairs or cover the entire cost of the insurance increase. Most kids can’t afford that. But paying something to the cause is a good life lesson that drives home the “responsibility talk.”

What if they don’t have any money? Well, maybe you have them get a part-time job until they can pay off what you are asking them to cover. Perhaps for a while, you don’t give them an allowance for all the chores they do at home. If that’s not an option, maybe you do a work program by giving them extra jobs around the house or for your neighbors that they don’t get money for. I’d much rather do things like this than take away privileges or ban them from driving the car.

Hopefully, your teen never has a car accident. But if they do, I hope these things will help you manage through it. Above all, their emotional health will be the most important thing to focus on. Things can always be replaced.

Questions for Discussion: Has your teen ever been in a car accident? How did you react? Did you make your teen responsible for some of the cost? What other things do you think would be beneficial for a teen who has been in a car accident?

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