Thursday, November 11, 2010

Let your fingers do the talking, just not when you're driving

You don't need a law to tell you that texting while driving is hazardous to your health. But some people need a little push, and knowing that Big Brother is watching ready to hand out a ticket and a fine may be the motivation they need to stow away the phone.

Unfortunately since teens lead with their heart and not their brain, their worry about missing some really really really important tidbit of news overrides any worry about Big Brother or more importantly deadly car accidents. To counter this, most parents lead with parental lecture #92:  Why texting and talking on your phone while driving is verboten, and if caught will be met with severe consequences."

Though well thought out and well intentioned this lecture is rarely effective. Because in the heat of the moment, when a kid gets into that car, lecture #92 is nowhere present in their immediate consciousness. It has literally gone in one ear and out the other, unless it has been paired with a concrete action plan. And this parents is the key. Because your teens cellphone is literally an extension of their body, and they are so used to feeling the weight of it in the palm of their hand, they have learned to navigate their world almost single-handedly. I am using that word in a literal sense here. Your job is not just to lecture about the dangers of driving and cellphone use, but help them to develop a game plan for what they will do with their phone to eliminate temptation when they get into the car.

Last week I asked my 60 college freshman how many of them text while driving. A depressingly large majority raised their hands. Then I asked them to visualize where their phones were when they stepped into the drivers seat, and here was the astounding response, they didn't know. They didn't know because they do not think of their phones as being a separate part of their body. It would be to them like asking where is your hand when you walk to the car. When I said, how about in your hand? They laughed at the joke, but got the message. Then I asked them to visualize where the phone was while they were driving. The two most popular answers were in their right hand or in their lap. Then we started to work on a plan. Clearly they all got that the phone needed to be in place not accessible to them while driving. The girls figured that if they put them in their bags, making sure the phone was on silent, and put the bags in the back seat, that would solve the problem, out of sight out of mind. The boys thought, putting them on silent and putting in the glove compartment, would do the trick. The learning is not someone telling them the obvious, but in helping them to develop a mindfulness about their phone, and then a plan to change the behavior.

If you have teens on the verge of becoming drivers, here is a suggestion that a parent gave me, which I thought was great. Anytime your teen is a passenger in the front seat, there is no phone use at all. In this practice you are helping your teen to associate no phone use in the front seat, which will hopefully translate to no use in the driver seat. To help enforce this, because of course you will get tremendous resistance to this, here is your " I get it" moment and what you can say to your teen:" I get how important staying in touch with your friends is, but soon you will be driving and I need to know that you are able to put away your phone and sit it out without talking or texting while driving. Having you do that with us while we are driving is a way of practicing and developing the ability to give your full attention to the road. This is obviously your choice, I am not going to make you put your phone away, though I will be happy to remind you, but when it comes time for you to get your license, it will be unlikely that I would let you drive my car unless I have complete confidence that you can be in the car without being on your phone, and I will only know that because you will have shown me. I love you and your safety is always going to be the most important thing in the world to me!"

And finally parents, and most importantly is what you do in the car with your phone. The model that you show your kids is the most powerful, more powerful than the lecture, and more powerful than the plan. Your teens are watching your every move, and if you talk or god forbid text on your phone while you are driving with them, just know that will come back to bite you on the a##. You are likely to hear: "You talk on the phone while you're driving, what's the difference? And truly there really is no answer to that. There is no correlation between driving experience and accidents with cell phone use. Twenty years as a driver, twenty days as a driver, distraction is a distraction, and your kids will see the hypocrisy if that is your argument. So when your kids, and this includes young kids or teens, are in the car while you are driving, make sure you say out loud: "shut my phone off for me, I don't want to be talking and driving. I want your kids to hear the words, so they get parked away up in that brain of theirs, so that when they get in that driver seat, they have a tape playing in their head from the most important people in their life.
Practice makes perfect!

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