When Teens Take Deadly Risks

Safety advocates are alarmed by the rising number of teen-agers engaging in the deadly game of car surfing. At least one health expert says that while risk taking is normal among teens trying to define themselves, the activities many youngsters pursue are more dangerous than they have ever been.

When kids car surf, they ride on the hood of a moving car with their legs extended. When the vehicle makes a fast 180-degree turn, they jump off to the side as quickly as they can.

According to safety advocates, the number of teens trying the dangerous trick is rising. While no one knows for sure why teen-agers are so fascinated by it, police are certain others will die trying to find out.

Marianne Angel of Kentucky was unaware that her daughter Kaye Saratain was an avid car surfer until the accident that claimed her life in October. Although Angel says her daughter was against bungee jumping and drunk driving, she took a risk that eventually ended her life.

"It's been - in this area - the coolest thing the kids are getting into," Angel says. "And, you know, it is a rush. That's what the kids all keep saying. It is all such a rush."

Dr. Lynn Ponton, author of The Romance of Risk: Why Teenagers Do the Things They Do and a professor of psychiatry at the University of California at San Francisco, says risk taking is normal among teens.

"It is the way that they define themselves....They get a thrill out of it, that thrill is exciting, and it helps them push their limits and their boundaries," she says. "We're not going to be able to stop them from taking risks, but we might be able to help or guide them in this process."

However, she says, the risks are different now.
"The cars are faster, the streets are more unsafe, and we're seeing about a 10 percent increase in deaths with this activity each year."

Dr. Ponton notes that Americans are unaware of the life-threatening activities that their children find so enthralling.

"Our country has to wake up to risk taking," she says. "We have to read about it as parents. We have to find out about it. We have to know the risky behaviors in our local area. We have to understand extreme sports better, and we have to teach our kids about risk assessment."

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Marianne Angel, mother of car surfing victim

Angel agrees, saying she would have addressed the dangers with her daughter had she known what was happening.

"I think parents really need to be aware of what the kids are doing," she says. "I had no idea. If I had, I would have talked to my daughter about it."

"I had sveral people say they talked to their children, but their children didn't know what it was so they just closed the subject because they didn't want to give them ideas," she adds.

Dr. Ponton recommends that parents explain to their children the consequences of reckless behavior, and encourage healthy risk taking such as high school sports or organized outdoor activities.

She suggests driving the kids to school in the morning and "really talk about our own risk taking and role modeling healthy risk taking."

"Our country has to wake up to risk taking," she says. " We have to know the risky behaviors in our local area. We have to understand extreme sports better, and we have to teach our kids about risk assessment."

[For more information related to this story, see Teen's Deadly Ride]

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