Despite safer cars and better road conditions, almost 6,000 teenagers are killed in auto accidents every year.
Q: The kids told me our babysitter was texting while she was driving the car. When I confronted her, she claimed she texts only at stop lights. How can I better address this with her?
A: Despite safer cars and better road conditions, almost 6,000 teenagers are killed in auto accidents every year.
According to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, close to 80 percent of crashes result from driver distraction. Dialing, texting -- even just listening to a conversation on a cell phone -- can distract drivers, and cell phone use is one of the most common driver distractions on the road.
Aside from being dangerous, driving while using a cell phone also may be against the law. Nineteen states, the District of Columbia and Guam have laws making it illegal to text and drive, while six states, D.C. and the Virgin Islands have enacted laws forbidding talking on a handheld cell phone while driving. Twenty-one states restrict cell phone use for novice drivers. For more information on laws governing cell phone use while driving in your state, visit Governors' Highway Safety Association at ghsa.org.
Talk to your babysitter about the importance of safe driving - and staying off the cell phone when she's on the road with your children in her care. Let her know that a cell phone in the car is for emergencies only and should never be used while in transit. To reinforce your message, consider using a parent-teen driving contract. Allstate offers a contract that can be personalized, and has a variety of other resources to influence safe teen driving at www.allstateteendriver. com.
Finally, be sure to thank your children for telling you about the incident and let them know they did the right thing. Include them in any contract or talks you have with the sitter so everyone is on the same (safe) page.
Q: My son is constantly trying to negotiate more online game time. His behavior seems obsessive. Can the internet be addictive?
A: Yes. Like many other things, the internet can offer an escape and distraction from the pressures and responsibilities of real life -- this can be especially appealing for teenagers. A preoccupation with anything -- including the internet -- is never a good thing and can impact social and psychological development.
Some kids become obsessed with instant messaging or e-mail, others with online games and pornography. Look for these warning signs if you're concerned that your child may be addicted to the internet:
Irritability when online access is not available. Preference for internet activities over other activities he used to enjoy. Constant conversation about internet activities and games. Sneaky behavior to access the internet without permission. Preoccupation with online activities even when he's not online. Parents can help kids strike a balance by following these simple steps.
Check internet history.
As mentioned above, sometimes kids are addicted to one particular aspect of the internet. Check the history of your computer to best understand what your child is doing online.
Talk about it.
Help kids understand that too much time online isn't healthy. Let them share their feelings so you can get a clearer picture of why they are feeling compelled to spend so much time online and come up with a plan together.
Don't ban access completely -- the internet is an important tool for school and social connections -- but be sure to set clear limits. For kids who can't get enough, parents may need to carefully supervise computer use and shut down the computer, or unplug the keyboard or mouse when computer time is over to resist temptation. Know where your child also may be accessing the internet (school, local library, friends' homes) and let others know about your concerns.
Encourage alternative activities.
Even though your child will be resistant, help him choose other activities that will encourage social and physical activity. Use family activities such as after dinner walks, board games or tech-free family getaways. Talk to your child's guidance counselor about your concerns and look for any school activities that might match your child's interests.
Seek out support.
Online addictions can sometimes be a sign of other problems like anger or depression. If your child continues to engage in risky behaviors to access the internet -- lies about his use, sneaks online behind your back, or breaks other rules
to gain access -- contact a professional counselor.
Set a good example.
As always, parents are influential role models. Be aware of the time you spend online playing games, surfing or sending e-mail. Follow the boundaries you set as a family and shut down the computer at a certain time each evening.
Sharon Miller Cindrich is the mother of two, a columnist and the author of E-Parenting: Keeping Up With Your Tech-Savvy Kids (Random House, 2007). Learn more at www.sharoncindrich.com, or send questions to Sharon@ sharoncindrich.com.