How can I get my child to take the discussion seriously, rather than thinking I'm just lecturing?

Teenagers are in a period of transition, and although they are children, they feel invincible and obsessed with gaining more freedom as well as the ability to make their own decisions. This can create barriers in a parent being "heard."

A discussion about safe driving is so important to the safety of your child that it should take place in a way that makes it clear that you take it very seriously.

Tell your son or daughter that you want to set aside a specific time to talk about safe driving, and get them to agree to a time when you won't be interrupted. The meeting can take place in the home but not over dinner, with the TV on, or during any other actitvity. This will give the discussion the right level of importance, and you are far more likely to be "heard." Sit down together and have a list of the subjects you want to discuss.

Here are further strategies and tips for talking to your teen.

Communicating Effectively with Your Teenager

Best-Selling Author John Gray, PhD, shares advice for parents


How can I get my son or daughter to understand the gravity of safety, and that death or serious injury is a real possibility?

Teenagers may not take the idea of mortality very seriously, and they often brush off subject of death with a "that won't happen to me" response. It is imperative that you break through this barrier in your discussion.

Listen to how your child answers your questions, and if it appears he or she is not taking it seriously, make it a little more personal. Discuss which of their friends could be most likely to have an accident and the underlying personality traits of that friend. Examine what behaviors they have while they are driving.

When you bring up the concept of a fatal car accident, make sure your teen knows that your concern is based on love. The subject of injuries from a serious accident could bemore effective than discussing death. The idea of facial disfigurement or paralysis can be a powerful deterrent. Unfortunately, these injuries are far too common in auto accidents.

This student reenactment of a horrible accident that injured several teens and killed one is a powerful demonstration for your teen of the impact one bad decision can have.

If your son or daughter does not appear to take the subject of safe driving seriously, end the meeting and say that you would like to talk about it when he or she is ready to participate in the conversation, as it is that important to you. Every approach you take must be based upon how your child responds to the conversation, and the threat of consequences (such as no driving) should only be employed when no other strategy has been effective.

If you have communication problems with your child, talking about these difficulties is your first step. Listen carefully to his or her viewpoint, and acknowledge the errors you have made (yelling, unfair punishments, failing to listen – anything). A heavy-handed authoritarian approach can make a child prone to bad decisions when facing peer pressure. Your first step is to establish healthy communication with your child.

There are many resources to help parents to re-establish communication. There is a great deal of practical advice online, such as this insight from an article by Debbie Reber:
"Resist the urge to jump in — "You and your friends did what?" — and instead, stay calm, nod and thank your daughter for sharing. If it's the kind of information that requires action on your part, take time to regroup, so that when you do bring it up, you can do it in a non-threatening way."

Eric Okerblom, 19

Faces of Distracted Driving

Eyes on the Road


How do I find out what will be presented
to my child in Driver's Ed classes? What can I do to reinforce these messages?

Get a copy of the Driver's Ed curriculum and review it. Choose a Driver's Ed class that has the most extensive training and that has video content. Teens are more likely to learn with visual content rather than being bombarded with written material.

A presentation that includes personal interviews with teen drivers who have been responsible for fatal accidents can be more effective than those that are heavily focused on pictures of accident scenes. Ask your teen what he or she thought about the presentation, and what decisions he or she made about driving after watching the presentation.

Online resources from your auto insurance company and the government can allow you to review the Driver's Ed programs before you choose a school. Resources such as those provided by the AAA can be helpful in selecting an excellent driving school.

While a Driver's Ed class that is better may be more expensive, it is an important investment when the training is effective. The best Driver's Ed training schools require their instructors to have ongoing training, and have a low student/teacher ratio. Strong Driver's Ed programs also facilitate parental involvement, are members of respected professional organizations, and do not have a history of unresolved customer complaints.

One Text, Two Lives

The Consequences of Texting and Driving


What can I do to model good driving conduct?

If you take a "do as I say, not as I do" approach, you're in trouble. Ask your child if he or she has seen you take risks behind the wheel. Listen carefully, take responsibility for your own driving conduct, and change it.

End your own bad habits, including any aggressive driving, speeding, failing to signal or tailgating. Your child will think that if you do it, it is okay. You now have an obligation to set an example as a safe driver, as your child will undoubtedly copy your behavior.

Let's admit it – our roads have their share of aggressive drivers. If you curse at other drivers, curb the impulse. Our own bad driving habits need to be addressed if we want our children to be safe behind the wheel. Be a safe, respectful driver yourself if you want your child to become a good driver. We don't condone unsafe driving, but there is an experience factor that a new driver doesn't have. Risks you may have taken could be fatal for your child.

All of your actions are noticed by your child. Your own driving conduct is one of the most important tools in educating your child to be a safe driver.


Are sites that tell stories about other teen driving accidents a good teaching tool?

There are several sites that are extremely effective, and you need to review the available online resources. Videos made by teens or presented by teens are more effective. Young people are more likely to listen to someone their own age rather than an adult, even when the story is tragic. Pick a few you think are especially effective and ask your son or daughter to watch the videos and discuss them with you.

The Faces of Distracted Driving campaign provides many personal stories of loved ones killed by distracted drivers.

Other good resources you can review include a video about a new undercover car in New York that can identify texting drivers before an accident occurs. Look through the various online resources, and ask your son or daughter to find some videos that he or she thinks are good and watch them together.

Working as a team in the learning process is a powerful way to open up the communication on this critical topic. Sit together at the computer and discuss the videos that you find and why they work or don't work to deter distracted driving.


How do we discuss the serious issue of peer pressure?

One of the most effective ways to approach this issue is role playing. This allows your son or daughter to come up with his or her own ideas of workable ways to handle difficult situations that could arise, such as drunk driving, speeding or being a passenger with a driver who is texting or driving unsafely. An example of a strategy would be to ask the driver to pull over for a bathroom break or for food as a reason to exit the vehicle.

Peer pressure, if not handled correctly, can mean tragedy. Role playing will get your child thinking about the subject and coming up with solutions that work when facing peer pressure. He or she needs to know what to do and how to solve a dangerous situation quickly.

Practice thoroughly with many scenarios and different personalities of drivers as well as peer pressure situations, acting them out. Switch up the role playing so you each play both parts. This could take an hour or many hours, and can be done on several occasions, with all types of scenarios.

Also, you can read additional tips about how parents can talk to children about peer pressure.


What driving tips should I recommend to my son or daughter?

When driving with your teen, verbalize what you are doing." "I'm checking my mirror, as I have to change lanes." "Now I am shoulder checking." "I am noticing that speed limit sign." "I am signaling my turn." Your child will be watching what you are doing, listening and learning.

Advance it to conversations about what to do next. "I am planning on turning left, what should I do?" or "That driver is [speeding, aggressive, unsafe, distracted], what should I do?" The more scenarios you discuss, the more your child will learn. Start with the basics of safe driving and then move on to more difficult situations as they arise.

If you rarely drive with your child you may need to consider changing your schedule, since learning by example may save a life. There is no substitute for real world experience. You can be the most effective teacher for your child by taking the time to educate your son or daughter. Make them aware of the sequence of using the rear and side view mirrors, shoulder checking, staying alert to the speed limit at all times, and being observant about other drivers and their conduct. These are all important lessons and tips that you should share with your child directly.


What types of distracted driving besides texting should we discuss?

All distracted driving issues should be discussed extensively. Some teens may not think certain behaviors are a distraction. They include:

The conversation should include talking to your son or daughter about other drivers and how to be alert to driving conduct that indicates drunkenness, cell phone use or other types of distracted driving. While sharing a drive with your child, notice other drivers and identify ones that are not focusing on the road. Have your child tell you how well that person is operating the vehicle. Give them points for finding these drivers and make it a game.

Explain the concept of cognitive distracted driving and note that multi-tasking is a myth. The brain is not able to do two things at the same time. Instead, it switches back and forth between them. Furthermore, the brain needs to process the different information it receives, taking even more time to comprehend fully what it takes in.

There are great risks in driving while on the phone, and they simply aren't worth it. The National Safety Council found in 2010 that drivers talking on cell phones have tunnel vision: this can reduce what they see while driving by 50 percent. The risk of having an accident is increased four times while talking on a cell phone.

Emphasize to your child that any moment his or her eyes and mind are not focused on the road can lead to terrible consequences.


Fact or Fiction?

Cognitive Distraction

Think you know all about distracted driving?


What online resources can I use to help convince my child of the dangers?

There are resources to help in the discussion about what can happen when you take your eyes off the road ahead. Here are some sites that can be effective to share while you have these conversations. Videos can be particularly compelling to teens.

Consider setting up a simple demonstration to show the distance a car travels in one second, with various scenarios, and how any form of distracted driving could lead to an accident. Graphically showing how this works will make it more real to your child. You can use toys or diagrams that you draw together with measuring tools so you can show clearly the dangers of driving without your eyes on the road.

Use the timer on your cell phone to have your child perform a task on their phone, like looking for a number to dial, finding a song to play, or sending a brief text so they know the actual length of time it takes, and the distance a car travels over those seconds.

Defensive driving advice should be an important aspect of what parents discuss with their children. Getting them into the habit of observing other drivers long before they get behind the wheel is a powerful teaching tool.

The impossible texting & driving test

More and more traffic accidents are due to texting.


For Teenagers:

Question and Answer

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friends about distracted driving

For Parents:

Question and Answer

Learn tips on how to talk to your
teen about distracted driving