Posted On: August 2, 2013 by Patrick A. Malone

Getting Tough on Texting While Driving

Some people are bonded more closely to their smartphones than they are to other people. Sometimes, these relationships are more helpful than harmful or annoying, but when it comes to driving, it’s never a good idea to text when you’re behind the wheel.

It’s essential that parents ensure their teenagers aren’t doing it, either.

We first broached this subject more than three years ago, but with the boom in texters and texting opportunities, the problem endures.

In a discussion posted on KevinMd.com, pediatrician Claire McCarthy from Boston Children’s Hospital states that “I’m not big on spying on teens generally. I think that privacy is important. And by the time they are teens, … we need to let them learn to be independent and make choices without us.

“That said, if you have a teen who drives, there’s some spying I suggest: … check to see when your teen is texting. More specifically: Check to see if he’s doing it while he’s driving.”

Although you might not be able to see the content of texts on your online account, you can review every call or text made. And that’s the point—McCarthy isn’t interested in reading texts, just knowing when they’re happening.

Even if you don’t know exactly when your child is driving, you might be able to detect patterns, and if the child knows you’re checking, that can serve as a deterrent in itself.

McCarthy refers to a study in the journal Pediatrics that found that half of U.S. teens 16 and older reported texting while driving in the previous 30 days. “To be fair to teens,” McCarthy makes clear, “we adults aren’t setting much of an example: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a third of adults text while they drive.”

The study also found that teens who text while driving also are more likely to do other risky things while driving–fail to use seat belts, drive with someone who has been drinking alcohol or drive drunk themselves.

So, like so many parent-child lessons, it comes down to role-modeling. If you want your child to eat healthfully, follow a healthful diet yourself. If you want your child to read more and watch TV less, read more yourself. If you don’t want your child to text while driving, don’t you do it.

As McCarthy reminds, the teen brain is not the same as the adult brain, and because of that “under construction” status, behavior that comes more easily to you proves more difficult for a kid. (See our blog, “Teen Injuries in Auto Accidents: Sense of Invincibility May Cause Car Crashes.”)

Teens, as McCarthy says, “are wired to think that disaster will happen to someone else. Their brains are still developing, and the last part to mature is the frontal lobe, the part of the brain that controls our impulses and gives us some common sense. From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s good that adolescents are willing to take risks; as you start out in life, it’s good not to be afraid of your shadow. But that risk-taking can sometimes play out badly–and often does, when they text and drive.”

Set rules for safe driving, McCarthy says, and enforce them. Follow them yourself.

If you do find out that your teen has been texting while driving, impose consequences. “At a minimum,” McCarthy advises, “there should be a loss of driving privileges. Driving truly should be a privilege, not a right–teens need to understand really clearly how their lives, and the lives of those around them, can be on the line every time they drive.”

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