Practice what you preach. ”Walk the talk. ”Lead by example. “These are just a few words of wisdom we, as parents, try to live by. Especially when it comes to giving our kids the tools they need to live happy and healthy lives. But what value do our words hold if we don’t practice what we preach? Ask yourself this question the next time you get behind the wheel with the kids in tow.
Sure, we teach them to buckle their seat belts as soon as they get in the car. But do we teach them to put away their cell phones? As in all aspects of life, teens need good role models. Even more so when it comes to getting behind the wheel. When surveyed about their parent’s driving patterns, teens cited texting and driving as one of the most commonly observed “bad habits” among adult drivers. What parents may not realize is just how powerful the message they’re sending to their kids about texting and driving is. Parents might believe that their years of accident-free driving justifies their texting and driving. While teens may believe their years of texting gives them the experience to text and drive “safely.” When teens see their parents texting and driving, it confirms that they’re not in danger.
Pew also found that adults are more likely to text and drive than teens. 47 percent of adult respondents saying they either send or read messages while at the wheel of a vehicle. That’s a surprisingly high number compared with 34 percent of teens doing the same thing. “There’s been a lot of focus on young drivers and for good reasons. But this research provides an important reminder that adults are setting a bad example,” says Mary Madden, a senior research specialist at Pew.
Dave Melton, director of transportation consulting services for the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, agrees and says parents need to first and foremost set a good example for safe driving. A Liberty Mutual Insurance survey showed that 69 percent of parents of teen drivers practice at least two dangerous or distracting behaviors while driving. While nearly half perform at least three distracting behaviors.
“Young kids have seen us exhibit bad behaviors,” Melton says. “No matter what we tell them about safe driving, how can they believe we’re serious about it? We must become good examples. Teens get safe driving [practices] from many sources, but no one more than mom or dad. “Since it’s likely your teen will have access to a cell phone while driving, it’s important to let them know of the risks of texting and driving,. Set some ground rules.”
Texting while driving is never safe. Teens think they can text safely. By only texting at a red light or by holding their phone at eye level so their heads aren’t down. But they are wrong. Make it clear to your teen that taking their eyes off the road or their hands off the steering wheel is dangerous.
Rules should include how many people they can have in their car while driving, the importance of wearing seatbelts, keeping their car maintained and, of course, not driving while distracted. Hold your teen accountable if you find out he was texting while driving. Take away driving or phone privileges until he can be responsible enough to ignore his phone while on the road.
Even if your teen has agreed to not text and drive, there’s a chance his friends might not be as responsible. Teach your teen that it’s okay for them to tell their friends they don’t feel comfortable being a passenger if their friend is going to text and drive.
Have your teen practice what he’ll say if he finds himself in an uncomfortable situation. Let him know it’s the same as refusing to get into a car with a drunk driver. Assure him he has the option of driving himself or calling you for a ride if he doesn’t think his friends will drive safely.
Teaching your teens these lessons now may keep them from getting into accidents and just may save their lives.