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Do You Call Your Teen when He’s Driving?

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Health, Wellness, & Safety

We all know that talking or texting while driving is a bad thing to do. We know that teens are especially likely to use their phones while behind the wheel. But who are they talking to? You!

A study of 400 teens, aged 15 to 18 from 31 states, reported that more than half of their calls – 53% – were from their mother or father. According to Noelle LaVoie, lead researcher, “Teens said parents expect to be able to reach them, that parents get mad if they don’t answer their phone and they have to tell parents where they are.” Teens also said their parents use their phones while driving and don’t seem to think that calling or texting while driving is a big deal.

Of course, it is a big deal. In 2011 cell phone use was blamed in nearly one-quarter of all fatal crashes involving teen drivers. Cell phones are responsible for an even greater number of non-fatal accidents, accidents that can put your teen in the hospital, raise your insurance rates, or damage your car. Yet a 2013 survey found that 86% of high school juniors and seniors routinely use their cell phones while driving.

You are part of this problem. Here’s what you must do, starting right now.

  1. If you know your child is driving, don’t call her. Just don’t. Wait until you can imagine she’s safely arrived at her destination.
  2. Nothing you have to say is so important as keeping your kid’s eyes on the road. You can afford to let your child get back to you when it’s safe to do so.
  3. Make it clear to your child that you do not want her to answer your call or text if she’s driving. In fact, make it clear that she should never answer anyone’s call or text while on the road. Don’t crab at your kid or penalize her for not answering you immediately.
  4. Set a good example. Quit talking on the phone or texting while you drive and stop answering the phone when you’re on the road. If you believe an incoming call is vital, pull over and stop the car.

The notion that a brain can do two things at once has been demonstrated to be false. Instead, brains do one thing at a time, switching attention between competing needs. Teens are not any better at multitasking than adults are. They have not somehow trained their brains to attend to more than one thing at once.

Similarly, the notion that driving is so automatic that there’s lots of brain bandwidth left over for phone use is not true. Certainly while you drive, your brain has time to think of things you should be doing and people you need to talk with. But your brain doesn’t have capacity to actually do those things or launch those conversations. Get where you’re going, then do what you need to do.

Parents have been demonstrated to be a huge part of the problem of teens’ distracted driving. Now it’s time for parents to be a huge part of the solution.

© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.