Thursday, January 31, 2008

Teens, texting and driving

The other day in response to my blog on irresponsible cyclists, Karende wrote in and mentioned a mom who refuses to insist that her child wear a helmet because he'd simply take it off the second he's out of her sight. It made me wonder how that mom is going to cope if ever tragedy strikes and her son suffers a massive head injury.

It also reminded me of two other issues, the most topical of which is teens who insist on text messaging while driving. Many of you may have seen the Dr. Phil episode a few months back in which a mom came on the show with her teenage daughter who insists that she has the skill and attentiveness to do both. Mom worried this wasn't the case.

However, and this is a big one, Mom absolutely refused to do what she had to do to make sure her daughter and others on the road remained safe. While many of us at home and in the studio audience looked on in absolute bewilderment, the mother sat through a tape of the simulation they'd done with her daughter who was driving and texting . . . and running into practically everything on the simulated "road." Ms. Teenager claimed it was an unfair test.

Dr. Phil then had on a young man who'd hit and killed a cyclist because he was texting and driving. He told how devastating this had been for him and his family, the guilt and remorse he felt about what had happened. Ms. Teenager seemed to find his story very sad, but was unmoved about the need to change her own behavior.

At that point, Mom was told she simply had to take the cell phone away from the girl until she could be trusted to be more responsible. Mom said, "Well, I'll do it if I have to." Which part of this did she not understand? Her child was not going to change her behavior without direct parental intervention. The mom's obvious lack of conviction suggested that Ms. Teenager is most likely still on the road, convinced of her immortality and as irresponsible as ever.

Years ago -- and this is my second instance of a lack of parental determination -- I heard parent after parent declare war on TV advertising on children's shows because those ads put them in the uncomfortable position of having to say no to their child. Oh, sweet heaven, isn't that a parent's job? Just because the little one demands a particular toy or a particular brand of cereal doesn't mean he or she has to have it. In fact, if there's a tantrum involved, I'd say that's the perfect time to declare that whatever they're after is off-limits indefinitely.

Admittedly, I don't have my own children, so some of these hard calls have not been mine to make. I do, however, have a very strong belief that it's up to the adults to be adults and make the decisions that will keep their children safe, teach them responsibility, and then see to it that the rules are followed. Is that easy? No. Is it the parent's job. You bet.

When did parents decide it was more important to be a best friend than a mom or dad? I'm sure over the years, I was unhappy with quite a few decisions my parents made, but you better believe I abided by them or suffered the consequences. Those rules helped me, I hope, to become a concerned, caring, responsible adult, instead of the kind of self-indulgent, irresponsible young people that turn up from time to time in today's difficult world. These days with so many things that can steer teens down the wrong path, rules and follow-up are more important than ever. Leniency isn't doing a teen -- or younger child, for that matter -- any favors. And if tragedy strikes, no parent should have to live with that kind of regret. They need to know they did everything humanly possible to prevent it.

If you've seen examples of this and would like to share them, click on the comments icon below. Or if you disagree, share that as well. If your child's favorite argument is that this or that friend is doing it, how do you reply? I'd love to hear from you.

And if you have another topic you'd like to suggest or would like to write a guest blog about a hot topic that you and your friends are talking about, please email me directly at

Sherryl Woods

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Blogger karende said...

I don’t know what’s happened to parental responsibility. It boggles me that so many want to be their children’s friend, instead. Some of the first things my own children learned was to say “Please” and “Thank you” and that the first time they whined or touched anything in a store, we were leaving. It was fun to take them out to the DQ or shopping, not that I ever had any choice about the shopping. But at the same time I had a friend, a woman who’s son was the same age mine were, and she asked me what I did to distract my kids whenever we went into a store with breakable things on the shelf. I asked her what she meant, and she said the first thing she had to do was find something for her son, because otherwise he’d start grabbing anything that looked interesting. I said mine weren’t allowed to touch, and they knew it - I never had to worry about distracting them. She got pretty huffy and asked how they’d ever learn to shop? Excuse me? No kid three years old needs to learn to shop, let alone left to run around loose in a store!

As for that woman and her teenage daughter, she’ll be very, very lucky if she doesn’t have to plan a funeral for her daughter. In the state where I now live, it’s illegal to drive and talk on a cell phone now [or shortly will be] let alone text messaging. I rather think if she does have an accident, the insurance company won’t cover any damages because of that. They’re always looking for reasons to not pay off, and that’s the best one I’ve heard so far. If she’s willing to live with the guilt and the possibility of losing everything they have because she’s too much of a wimp to say “Either do it my way, or I get control of the phone until you prove you’re responsible” and Daughter Dearest hits and kills someone in an accident that the insurance company won’t cover, then she’ll have to suffer the consequences of her own idiocy.

February 2, 2008 3:00 PM  
Blogger Sherryl said...

During my 10 years as the owner of a bookstore/gift shop, I can't tell you how many times I heard people with small children walk into the foyer of the store and admonish them, "Don't touch anything." Invariably it was the last time they even looked at or spoke to the child. From then on I'd hold my breath as kids ran wild from room to room. Every once in a long while, when they were completely out of control, I'd say something myself, but I never considered it my right or my job to discipline someone else's child unless tables or bookselves were about to topple onto their heads.

I was in a Target one day and heard a mom telling her small child who was in the shopping cart that if he didn't behave, they would leave. Five seconds later, when he was still screaming, she marched right back out the door with him. When they returned, just moments after that, he was on his best behavior. I was so impressed. At last a mom who actually followed through on her warning. And it worked! Imagine that!

February 3, 2008 11:50 AM  
Blogger karende said...

Amazing! BUt in a situation like your shop, you put a big - tastefully designed, of course - sign on the front door that says "If you break it, you buy it. Yes, that includes your children, too."

One time we did go into a store, both of my kids walking by then, both of them with their hands in their pockets just to help ward off temptation, and the clerk ran screaming up to us telling me if they broke anything I'd have to pay for it. I said "Does it look like they're running wild?" Both were standing as close to me as they could get. She said "No, but we've had kids in here before. Now, what do you want?" And I said "Nothing from you," and turned around and walked out. What was so strange was that it was a sporting goods store, and we'd gone there to get some insulated boots for the kids. There wasn't a single thing breakable in the place, other than the glass display cases. Nothing but clothing and guns, and all the guns were locked away in cases behind the counters, and all the hunting knives were inside the display cabinets. The most any child could have done was pull a pile of shirts off a shelf.

February 3, 2008 12:26 PM  
Blogger Sherryl said...

Karende, something tells me you walked in ten minutes after some other kid had run wild in the place. Either that or you were in a store that doesn't understand the meaning of good customer relations...which is a whole other issue in this day and age.

February 4, 2008 11:38 AM  
Blogger karende said...

It wasn't the kind of store where small children normally went, under any circumstances, but that was the first year they'd decided to expand and offer children's sizes of rubber and insulated boots. They really weren't interested in customer service, either, because it was the only place in town that sold most of what they carried. Very few people actually liked the guy who owned it, but they dealt with him. The 'clerk' who screamed at us [literally, my kids were frightened and horrified] was the guy's wife. She hated the place, hated being there, hated everything about it. She finally did convince him she wasn't going to work there any more, and if he wasn't going to do it full time himself, he'd have to hire a clerk part time. Even fewer people liked her than liked her husband. One of the downsides of small town life.

February 4, 2008 1:13 PM  

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