I would never text while driving. Except at stoplights, that is, or maybe just to take a quick peek at E-mail. Like many parents, I'm a hypocrite about this issue; I lecture my daughter about the dangers of any mobile-phone use while driving and snatch the BlackBerry out of my husband's hands when he's behind the wheel. Time to shape up, Mommy. One of the best ways to enforce no-texting-while-driving in your family is to forgo the practice yourself.
Easier said than done, I know. So I like the new Rules of the Road for Texting from Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that lobbies for safer media use. It's a practical way to start thinking about getting your family's texting-while-driving habit under control:
- Don't move while texting. This means not just don't drive, but don't walk, bike, or skateboard. Yes to that. Surely, I'm not the only grown-up who has fallen flat on her face because I was texting while walking down the sidewalk. Even more embarrassing, it was right around the corner from U.S. News's headquarters in tony Georgetown.
- With power comes responsibility. Make rules on where and when texting is acceptable. Not during meals, during class, or on family outings. Phones are off at night. And make it clear that you'll yank the phone for violations of family rules. Consider monitoring children's texts for cheating or inappropriate sexual messages as well. Think that's rare? Thirteen percent of teenagers say they've sexted; one third say they've used mobiles to cheat in school.
- Stop driving while texting yourself. Pretend you're in California, where hands-free use is the only legal use of mobile phones in cars. Or just enjoy the chance to be unwired. Who knows, you might even talk to your kids instead.
If you think your teenager needs a shocking wake-up call, the Texting While Driving PSA on YouTube may do the trick. It's a graphic enactment of a car crash caused when a teenage girl gets distracted while texting and driving. Her two girlfriends are killed. It's not for the squeamish.