Parent Research: Setting an Example for Distracted Teen Drivers

Summer is the deadliest season for teen drivers, with seven of the top 10 deadliest days occurring during the 100 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day, according to the American Automobile Association. Teens drive more during the summer, which may account for the increased risk.

Also adding to the risks for teen drivers is distracted driving, and according to researchers, the old adage, “children see, children do” applies.

The research in recent years has found that teens often learn their risky driving behaviors from watching parents when they drive. These parents practice a “do as I say, not as I do,” approach to role modeling. Kids have watched their parents make and receive calls on their cellphones while driving, as well as sending and replying to text messages. The bad driving practices of parents then become the social norm for their kids, despite what parents say.

Back in the summer of 2014, a study presented at the annual meetings of the American Psychological Association found that parents were directly responsible for teen distracted driving as up to half of teens are on calls with mom or dad when they talk on a cellphone while driving.

The researchers noted that parents expect their teens to answer their phone calls, and that teens fear their parents will get angry when they don’t.

What Can Parents Do?

• Parents should make it their goal to set a good example for their teens in regard to cellphone usage while driving. When a child observes a parent answering even one call or sending one text while driving, they send the message to their kid that legitimizes the bad behavior.

• Set clear expectations and consequences with your teenager regarding cellphone use while driving. Then, live by the same expectations.

• Specifically address how teens should handle phone calls or texts while they are driving – and specifically those received from parents.

• Practice makes perfect. Your teen’s driving skills are improved through supervised driving experience. Even if your teenager already has a driver’s license, let her or him drive while running family errands. If necessary, pre-arrange for text messages or calls to be made to your teen driver during these trips. This provides your teen with hands-on experience with handling distractions while you are present in the vehicle.

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Jim Liebelt

Jim is Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for HomeWord. Jim has over 35 years of experience as a youth and family ministry specialist, having served over the years as a pastor, author, consultant, mentor, trainer, college instructor, and speaker. Jim’s HomeWord culture blog also appears on and Jim and his wife Jenny live in Quincy, MA.

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