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Peer Pressure: the Silent Killer?

05/07/2012 05:20 EDT | Updated 07/07/2012 05:12 EDT
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On Friday night, my phone rang at 11:30 p.m. It was a Florida phone number I did not recognize. When I answered the phone a woman said, "Is this Erika?"

"Yes," I said.

"Hi, this is Hannah's mom. Hannah is the 16-year-old girl who babysat for your daughter when you were in Florida."

Immediately, I knew something was wrong because I never met this woman and there was no reason for her to be calling me. The woman said,

"Hannah made a very bad choice and has been in a terrible accident. She was coming home from the mall with her girlfriends and got on the hood of her friend's car in an attempt to "car surf." She was just two doors down from our home when she fell as the car turned the curve.

She hit her head on the pavement. I found her in the street, unresponsive. She is in a coma, and has already had brain surgery. We do not know if she will live and if she does we do not know what will happen to her.

I am calling you because she told me you appeared regularly on televesion as a parenting expert. I was hoping you could spread the word about Hannah so no family has to endure what we are going through right now. I know lots of kids will think about car surfing. They need to know how dangerous it is."

I was so shaken up by this call. I had spent a lot of time talking to Hannah a few months ago. She was excited for prom and the summer ahead. She told me how she was a dancer and class president. She did not drink, smoke or experiment with drugs.

I was working on my prom safety tips article at the time and asked her if she would go to the prom with a boy her parents did not like. She said she would never do anything if her parents told her not to. And she meant it. Hannah was just a really good kid who made a really bad choice. But, why would she do such a thing?

The only answer I can come up with is peer pressure. It was the thing to do. She was with three girlfriends, they felt safe because they were in their neighborhood, and she would definitely be thought of as the cool kid if she did it.

But, as parents how do we prevent things we would never think of? Who would believe their child would get on top of a car and "surf" down the street? According to the trauma center where Hannah is being treated, she is not the first to come in with such an injury from car surfing. It is more common than you think and more kids are likely to try this as time goes on.

While the message of Hannah's story is to warn your kids about car surfing, the bigger idea is to discuss the poor choices made under peer pressure. Bullying has been the hot topic of late but it usually has its roots in peer pressure.

While you can't anticipate everything your child might do, you can discuss peer pressure and how to handle it. Here are a few tips to give your child:

1. Listen to your gut. If your friends want to do something and you know instinctively that it's wrong, do not participate. Those friends won't be there to save you when something goes awry.

2. Be an individual. Kids want to fit in so badly they often lose themselves trying please others. Encourage your children to think for themselves and not be afraid to disagree or leave the group.

3. Value yourself and your beliefs. Kids often think their friends are right or have all the answers, but their friends are just as clueless as they are and are figuring out the world just like everyone else.

4. Come to you no matter what the issue. If your child feels they can tell you anything, you might be able to help them when their peers are encouraging them to make a bad decision.

5. Decisions made today can ruin your life. It's important kids know how the choices they make today can impact their future.

As parents, we can just raise them well and hope for the best. Hannah's mother did just that but unfortunately it was not enough. Keep her in your thoughts and tell your children Hannah's story. Discuss peer pressure and ensure that one bad choice doesn't impact your child's life forever.