The good news for parents of teens today is that modern adolescents are less likely to engage in risky behaviors such as smoking, drinking and fighting. The bad news, however, is that seemingly-benign behaviors such as media usage and texting are on the rise and are, at times, proving deadly. These were the findings of a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, the results of which were published this summer.
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What’s So Bad about Media Usage?
Media usage includes such things as web surfing, playing video games, posting on social media platforms (such as Facebook and Instagram) and watching TV. Though today’s teens don’t spend an overwhelming amount of time watching TV, they do engage in the other behaviors quite frequently. So, what’s so bad about this? There are a number of potential problems:
- Kids are spending more time in front of screens and monitors and less time outside. Media usage is surpassing engagement in real-life social activities, exercise and school work. In fact, there has been a significant rise in the number of teens who spend more than three hours a day staring at a screen.
- Though many online activities can be deemed “social” in nature, they are not a good substitute for the person-to-person engagement through which teens learn interaction skills and mature into adults. When children engage in frequent use of social media, they tend to develop an inflated sense of self which may actually slow down their social development.
- There are well-documented cases of online bullying that occur in this country all the time. Children who are victims of this type of bullying may suffer from depression, anxiety and even physical ailments. It is important that parents monitor their teens’ online activities.
- Many teens feel the need to check on or update their social media so frequently that they do it while out on the road. It is not difficult to find hundreds of “selfies” on social media platforms that were snapped by teens while they were behind the wheel of a car. This behavior is dangerous and increases the likelihood of collisions.
Perhaps you remember the recent news story about the 32-year-old woman who updated her Facebook status to say how happy the song “Happy” made her feel just seconds before fatally crashing her car into a tree. This woman was an experienced driver. Imagine how much more dangerous this type of behavior is for those who have had fewer than five years of driving experience.
Why Is Texting So Dangerous?
Does it seem to you that teens are constantly thumbing text messages into their cell phones? Adolescents prefer texting over talking on the phone and use it as form of constant communication with their friends. A recently study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that, on average, teen girls send about 100 texts a day while teen boys send about 50.
Given how frequently they engage in texting, teens feel that it is a simple process. In fact, 77% of them believe that they can easily and safely send a text while driving. The truth is that drivers are far more likely to be involved in accidents while texting than they are while dialing, talking on the phone, or reaching across the car for their cell phones, which are other well-known risky behaviors.
Reading or responding to a text requires people to take their eyes off whatever they are doing for at least five seconds. Whether your teen is walking down the sidewalk or driving a car, this momentary inattention can result in accidents or injuries. According to Lookout Security, 75% of teen drivers admit to texting while driving. That’s a sobering statistic given how dangerous this sort of behavior can be—even for experienced drivers.
How Can I Ensure My Teen Practices Safe Driving Behaviors?
By far, the most dangerous place to use electronic media or read and respond to texts is the driver’s seat of a moving vehicle. In 2011, more than 23% of all traffic accidents involved a driver using a smartphone.
Frequently, teens are driving cars without their parents present, so it is difficult for adults to monitor their cell phone use. This does not mean nothing can be done. Parents can take advantage of a number of options:
- Smartphone apps: Some cell carriers provide these standard with their phones. There are also a number of apps, many with free trial periods, that can be downloaded for use on children’s smartphones. They vary in what they can do, but some block the ability to answer calls or texts in a moving vehicle, others allow for fully hands-free cell phone use, and still others can send detailed reports of children's behavior directly to parents. These are worth looking into.
- Drive-Cams: These are installed in vehicles and can be used to monitor the driving behaviors exhibited by teen drivers. There is no need to watch the actions in real time, as many send a report directly to parents once teens reach their destination.
- Text-Free Driving Pledge: You can download the pledge at textinganddrivingsafety and ask your teen to review it with you and sign it as a promise not to text while driving. Be sure to explain the dangers so that your child understands why the pledge is so important.
Lead by Example
Many parents of teens may feel that they no longer have the influence over their children that they once did. However, though they may be less prone to admit it, teens do follow the example set by their parents. If you respond to text messages while driving or talk on the phone without using a hands-free device, you are demonstrating to your child that such actions are okay.
If instead you engage in safer behaviors, such as having someone else in the car answer your phone while you are driving, ignoring incoming calls or texts until you arrive at your destination, or even pulling over to return an important phone call, teens will observe this behavior and have a better idea of how to handle similar situations while they are behind the wheel.
Discuss the Dangers of Smartphone Use while Driving with Your Child
You cannot be with your teen driver every minute of the day, but you can talk to your child about safe texting and social media practices. Be sure to stress how important it is to stay focused on the road while driving. There is no text or status message that is important enough for teens to risk their lives or the lives of others who are sharing the road with them. You can learn more about safe driving practices by speaking with a local independent insurance agent.
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