Here is a scary statistic from an article in yesterday's paper on Distracted Driving Among Young People:
63% of people under 30 years old acknowledge driving while using a hand-held phone while and 30% of under 30 text while driving. There were 5500 people killed last year from texting and driving.
Though I have talked about this issue before, I think it bears repeating. I have seen a number of people way over 30 years old driving and texting, but there is not much we can do about that. But I am not ready to give up with teens. They are still young enough and dependent enough on you and your vehicle that you can hope to have some impact, if you can get them to listen. And that my friends is a big IF.
For some reason, and I include myself here, when I hear the chime on my phone signifying a text, I get a little excited. Who is it, what do they want? Even though 99.99999% of the time, it is nothing, somewhere I must think that the information just relayed is somehow going to change my life and that I can't live without knowing it immediately!!!!! Come on admit it, you get that little surge of excitement too. Well that's what your teen is feeling times 1000. As an adult, I get that I am ridiculous so I have trained myself not to look at the text until I have parked the car. I do have some ability to delay gratification. Teens, not so much. They need a little help.
After catching one too many students texting during one of my college classes, I stopped the class and asked everyone to take out their phones. Of course many only had to put their non-note taking hand with the phone in it from under the desk and put it on top of the desk. I then went around the room and asked my students to read the last text they had received. These important messages ranged from: "What-up", to a picture sent of a sandwich their friend was having for lunch. Literally out of 26 students there was not one text that was life-changing to say the least. We all had a great laugh listening to the ridiculousness of these silly messages. But there was a big impact. Reading out loud, and hearing that most of the stuff they get in texts is mindless chatter made them take a moment to acknowledge that they would be missing absolutely nothing by shutting off their phone. It gave them the motivation that some of them needed to delay that gratification.
Helping teens to stay safe while driving takes planning. This can not be just a " you better not be texting or talking on your phone while you're driving, and you will be punished if I find out" kind of a thing. The discussion I had with my students morphed into the driving while texting /talking discussion. This coincided with the new law at least here in Massachusetts that punishes texting while driving with a fine, and a law that prohibits people under the age of 18 years from driving and using a cell phone at all. I asked my students to close their eyes and think about walking to their car. I asked them where their phones were when they opened their car doors. ALL my students looked up at me puzzled, what do you mean? they asked. Where is your phone when you open the door of your car, I repeated. Here is where it got interesting. Their phones are now just another extension of their body that there is no awareness of it. They carry them in their hands at all times, they aren't even aware that they have them. When I said, they are in your hands, they laughed. To them their phones are their hands. When I asked where their phones are when they are driving, they all answered in their non-driving hand, ready to text, make or take a call. And there is the problem. The goal then was to get them to develop a plan and a place to put their phone so as not to be tempted. And that's what we did. The girls said they would shut their phones off, put them in their pocketbooks and put their pocketbook behind the seat. Out of sight out of mind. The guys said shutting the phone off and putting it in the glove compartment. Who knows if they ever followed through, but mine was just an exercise in a psychology class, your teen actually lives with you, and you have more time for practicing. So here is your action plan!
Sit down with your driving teen:
1. Have them read their last 5 text messages, either out loud(which of course they won't do, or to themselves) Ask them on a scale of 1-10 how life changing each text was. This can lead a discussion to the texting /driving issue.
2. Where is your phone when you go to your car?
3. Where is your phone while your driving? (Don't get critical here, when your teen tells you something you don't like hearing. The work is to help them acknowledge what they do now and come up with something different)
4. Using an I get it moment: "I get that you like to keep your phone close cause you worry you're going to miss something if you don't, or your friends are changing plans and you worry you won't find them. I get this will be hard, cause its always hard to break a habit, but I love you and I want you to be safe."
5. Where can you put your phone when you get in the car so that you can resist the temptation to respond to texts/calls?
6. OK now lets practice.
7. Optional follow-up. You can tell your teen that you will be checking the phone bill on line to see when text messaging and calls are going out and coming in to see if they coincide with when you are driving. We will do this together once a week.
There will be TREMENDOUS resistance to going through this process. So having realistic expectations about how this will go is extremely important. Here is your I get it moment when you get the "this is stupid". "I get you find this whole exercise ridiculous, but just telling you not to use your phone in the car isn't helpful to you unless you have an alternative plan in place. Here is the thing, if you want to drive our car, I need to know that you are on top of this, and have a plan in place. If you choose not to do this, then you won't be able to use our car. Your decision."
And that is that. There is nothing more important than your teen's safety. And judging by the statistics I cited, they need your help.