How to Help Your Teen Kick the Texting While Driving Habit

Posted on October 29th, 2012, 0 Comments

The last post relayed the staggering facts about the dangers of texting while driving. Among the facts was this one: Every day, texting while driving causes 11 teen deaths. That’s eleven families, schools, and neighborhoods grieving the forever loss of children, siblings, friends, and teammates.

Texting is, in reality, an ingrained habit for a lot of teens. Studies show that the typical teen sends about 100 texts a day and that 1 in 3 teens admits to sending and receiving messages while driving.

Although authorities are increasingly cracking down on texting while driving, many teens remain unconvinced. Recent focus groups done by researchers at the Pew Research Center revealed that lots of teens think that it’s okay to text if they’re at a stoplight or stuck in traffic. Others acknowledge that it’s not really safe to text and drive but insist that it’s safer to hold the phone up so they can see the road and the text as the same time.

The bottom line is that we parents cannot count on laws to keep our teens safe behind the wheel. Parental involvement is crucial. In fact, recent teen surveys show that teens who refrain from texting while driving are much more likely to report having frequent interactions with their parents about safe driving.

Below are some suggestions for getting your teen’s attention:

Debunk the myth about multitasking. Share the facts about the dangers of texting while driving and the truth about multitasking (found here).

Tell your teen why you’re worried. Discuss the possible irreversible outcomes that you fear most. Watch the video about Alex Brown with them (found here). And then together watch the video about Aaron Deveau, the Massachusetts teen who was convicted of homicide this summer and is now serving a year in prison as a result of texting while driving (found here).

Develop rules for the road. Remember, the more vague your messages are, the easier they are to ignore. So explicitly tell your teen that they are not to text and drive. Make sure they know that the restriction applies even when they’re at a stop light and that it includes reading texts too. Consider requiring that their phone be turned-off and put in the trunk or the back seat so that it’s unreachable.

Enforce the agreed upon rules. Remind your teen that driving is a privilege that they have to earn and work to keep. Tell them you’ll take the privilege away if they don’t follow the agreed upon rules. Then monitor your teen’s behavior. Regularly look at the log of their phone activity. Make a point of riding along with them occasionally so that you can watch their habits. Consider looking into the new apps designed to shutdown the keyboard when the GPS indicates the phone is moving over a preset speed. And take the keys if you find out that they’ve been texting while driving.

Be a good role model. According to a recent report, 47% of adults admit to texting while driving. Your example is the most powerful influence in your teen’s life, so don’t be one of those adults. If you’re driving with others and need to send or get a text, model the copilot system by letting a passenger do it for you.

The good news is that teens can break bad habits and learn new ones, leading to wiser and safer decisions. But they need our help to make it happen. Our teens need us parents to draw clear lines between what is safe and what is not so that they know where the boundaries are. They need to hear us say with our words and our actions that their safety is more important to us than anything else.

Our teens are counting on us!

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Teens Who Text and Drive: The Staggering Stats and the Myth and Habit Behind Them

Posted on October 5th, 2012, 0 Comments

Last week I heard a mother talk about teens who text and drive. There were tears in her voice as she told why she cared so much about this issue. Her seventeen-year-old daughter, Alex, was killed in a rollover accident on her way to school. Alex was texting while driving. (You can learn more about this family’s story here.)

The staggering stats:

• Texting while driving causes 25% of all accidents, totaling 1.6 million crashes and resulting in 333,000 injuries per year.

• Texting delays a driver’s reaction time as much as having a blood alcohol concentration of .16 – double the legal limit of .08. And a driver who is texting is 6 times more likely than a drunk driver to be in an accident.

• Teens admit they regularly text while driving. In a recent CDC national survey of more than 15,000 high school students, 1 in 3 said that they had texted or emailed while driving. In a just released survey by State Farm, the numbers were even higher – 57% of teens with driver’s licenses admitted to texting while driving.

• Distracted driving deaths are most common in teens. Every day, texting while driving causes 11 teen deaths.

Obviously, this isn’t just a teen issue. Many adults text while driving too, and, like teens, adults also lose focus on the road when they do. But because of their inexperience at driving, teens are already more susceptible to accidents than adults. Texting and the growing menu of similar distractions make the number of teen deaths and life-altering accidents staggering – heartbreakingly so.

We must help our teens make wiser, safer decisions. And to do this, we’re going to have to deal with both a myth and a habit.

The myth about multitasking:

Teens tend to view texting while driving as simply doing two things at once. And most of them pride themselves on their ability to multitask. But while most teens (and many adults) like to think they can multitask, cognitive research suggests that when people think they are doing two things at once, what they’re really doing is switching very rapidly from one task to another. That means the brain has to pick and choose what to ignore and what to pay attention to as it shifts back and forth.

Neuroscientists liken the process to a spotlight moving from one task to another with the transitions being neither instant nor smooth. In fact, studies have shown that texting takes a driver’s focus off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds – enough time to travel the entire length of a football field at 55 mph. Obviously, teens (and adults) who text while driving aren’t always going to get all the information they need to stay safe.

The texting habit:

Texting is a habit, and it’s a hard habit to break – especially for teens. Neuro-imaging studies indicate that the instant gratification of texting and getting a text in reply floods the brain’s pleasure center with dopamine. This feel-good neurotransmitter rewards teens for texting – often within seconds – sending the message, “That feels GOOD! Do it again!” and causing them to text even more. Thus, once started, it becomes harder and harder to stop.

Plus, research has shown that small messages that don’t fully satisfy – like those sent in texts – are the most addictive. What’s more, dopamine is stimulated by unpredictability. And unpredictable is exactly what texts are all about. We don’t know exactly when they’ll come or who will send them.

And then there are the Pavlovian cues. These are small, specific signals that a reward is on the way – like the ringtone indicating that a text has arrived. And these cues set off the dopamine system. Thus, the ringtone adds to the addictive effect of texting and makes it virtually impossible for teens to ignore an incoming message.

Truth be told, the habit-forming quality of texting affects both teens and adults, but teens are affected more. That’s because habits are learned. And with their brains still developing, teens tend to learn faster and better than we adults do, making the breaking of the texting habit that much more difficult for them.

The next post will explore what parents can do to debunk the multitasking myth and help their teens break the habit of texting while driving.

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