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Peer Pressure (5/3/06)

Dear Zelda,

I'm 16 and just got my driver's license. My problem is my friends who think driving fast and crazy is cool. Do you have any suggestions as to something I could say to them to get them to drive more responsibly?

Drivin' Me Crazy

Dear Drivin' Me Crazy,

Way to go on the driver's license! You are now officially a "responsible driver," at least according to the Department of Motor Vehicles, and although you may not know it, thousands of drivers, every day, depend on you to be just that. We've all grown up viewing cars as the quickest way to get from point A to point B, and because it's all so easy, comfortable, and fun, we forget that a car is the deadliest weapon most of us will ever control (just ask a couple of the dogs in my neighborhood!). Driving is not something to take for granted; it's a privilege, and the fact that you've taken the time to write this letter shows that you understand this privilege and the responsibility that goes with it.

As for your friends, I can think of a few things you might say to them to help cool down some of their need for speed. For starters, let them know that in the world of insurance rates, a 16-year-old is the most expensive driver in the nation (in some cases TEN TIMES more expensive than drivers between the ages of 30 - 59). The insurance folks aren't dumb. These high rates mean that 16-year-olds are also the most likely to get wrecked or killed in a car, precisely because they drive too fast and don't know their limits. Any tickets or accidents that may occur during this time can double and even triple your current rate. You might also let them know that teen drivers have the highest rate of out-of-control, single-car crashes where speeding is the culprit. While we're on that subject, fatal accidents are more likely to occur when you're accompanied with friends. Too much talking (and hormones, and peer pressure) leads to distraction, which can lead to accidents, to severe injury, and ultimately...death. I know it sounds gruesome, but the fact remains that two out of three teens who die in automobile accidents are the PASSENGERS. Tell your friends that even if they want to take risks with their own lives, they should have a little more respect for the lives of their friends, and for everyone else on the road for that matter.

Of course, all your sage wisdom may fall on deaf ears; many teenagers, particularly the fast-drivin' kind, have perfected the art of not listening to sound advice. The best thing you can do is try to keep your friends safe, set a good example with your own driving, and when you're a passenger in someone else's car and they are being unsafe, don't be afraid to ask them to stop and let you out. It may not sound very cool, but trust me, getting hurt or killed in an accident, with your whole life ahead of you, is much less cool.


Dear Zelda,

I can't believe at 29 I'm writing you a letter about peer pressure, but here it goes. I come from a somewhat affluent family and my two best friends come from similar backgrounds (and are single right now). I recently married a wonderful man who's a little bit country and what you might call a good ol' boy. He has a great job and he's fantastic. My problem is that my friends are very "big city" and dress and shop accordingly. We've just bought our first house and it's very modest. My husband doesn't quite make the money that I'm accustomed to (which doesn't bother me). What bothers me is that I feel like my friends are beginning to make fun of me, behind my back of course, because I'm not always out shopping and buying all the things we used to. I don't want to go into debt just to hold onto my friends, and I know my husband would not be happy about it either. My husband really wants to be the provider for our family and I'm trying to live within our means and keep everyone happy at the same time.  Any hints or advice?

Newly Desperate Housewife

Dear Newly Desperate Housewife,

As we all know, marriage is about compromise, but having to compromise friendships based on your debt-to-income ratio is taking "shallow" to a whole new level.

Of course we choose our friends based partly on our shared interests and our commonalities, but once you get past the obvious, the hope is that our friendships will be based on our personality, and not our net worth. Does carrying the latest Gucci bag mean that you can hold onto dirty secrets longer, or is it just a lot of extra baggage? When your friend is in need, would pretty Prada shoes allow you to run to their side any quicker, or make your support any more heartfelt? Absolutely not. True friendship never goes out of style, nor does it need the latest and greatest in apparel and accessories to keep it fresh. If the only way you and your friends relate to one another is through shopping, maybe it's time to take a long, hard look at the kind of friendships you choose, and how supportive those people are of your life and your choices.

That said, it sounds like you're not quite sure if your friends ARE actually making fun of you "behind your back," or if you're just reading too much into the situation. You may be right that they are finding it harder to spend time with you, shopping or otherwise, now that you're married. But before you confront them about their shallow judgments, make sure that you're not just projecting your OWN fears, insecurities, frustrations, and judgments of yourself onto other people. It's easy to do, particularly when you already feel like your life, at the moment, involves sacrifices and changes from the life you lived growing up. It's only human (and canine) to project our own insecurities as the judgments of others, but these feelings and fears can spiral out of control if not dealt with. Before you confront your friends, make sure you've taken the time to confront yourself.

Your husband vowed to love you for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, and for better or worse. As corny as it may sound, this is also the vow of friendship. Be patient with your friends, don't be insecure about your own choices, and your true friendships will persist and grow naturally. If it will make you fell better and help clear the air, once you've had time to reflect on the subject, talk to your friends openly about your fears and your concerns, and about your worries that they won't be able to stay in your life in the same way. Don't let today's hottest trends be tomorrow's failed friendships. They'll come around.


Dear Zelda,

Our two dogs, Emerson and Lowell, are good dogs, most of the time. However when friends visit our home the dogs go wild.  It's as if one has to "out do" the other by jumping and barking.  Do you have any suggestions on how to train my dogs to stay calm when friends come over?

Canine Chaos

Dear Canine Chaos,

Well, this is a doggie dilemma indeed. How are you expected to be the proper host when "dogs gone wild" is playing in the background? As you know, it's only cute for the first two minutes, and after that it's just plain annoying (By the way...I'm not speaking from experience. Zee Zee and Zoe are perfect angels). Often when people get their puppies, they allow them to jump up, bark, chew, chase, and so on without really paying attention to how long and how far they are letting the behavior go. After all, it's cute when we're so little and innocent, but once that behavior passes the point of no return, cute becomes annoying, and annoying becomes intoler-a-bull!

Aside from my favorite answer of keeping them busy with their favorite chew toy, I'd say it's time for some behavior modification, and it starts in the form of training. Re-conditioning will take some time, and there's no time like the present. A great place to start is with the simple commands of "sit" or "lay down." Reinforce their good behavior with treats and praise immediately. Make sure they DO NOT get up or move until your command. This is very important, especially with dogs that get excited easily. Your command is the only one they should listen to, and this takes time and patience (and lots of treats). You may also want to halter your dogs for a while and only let them greet people after they have properly obeyed your command. A well behaved dog is a well received dog.

If all else fails and budget allows, you can always enroll them in a well respected and highly recommended obedience school in your area. Zee Zee just graduated first in her class! (she was also the only one in it, but heck...go ZEE ZEE!)