Keeping our kids healthy, safe and thriving is a top priority for parents in today’s fast-paced world. However, it can be difficult to keep track of all of the risks out there for our children, and we can’t be with them every moment of every day. May is Youth Safety Month, a campaign designed to educate parents about the steps they can take to protect their children. It’s also an opportune time to shine a spotlight on three primary areas of concern for parents with teens.
Learning to drive is an exciting experience for most teens…and it can be pretty scary for parents. This concern is not unfounded: according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2,524 teen drivers and passengers were killed and 177,000 were injured in 2013. Driving is the no. 1 cause of death for teens. There some things you can do, however, to prepare your teen to drive and significantly cut down the risks they will face when they get behind the wheel.
“It starts with practice,” says Randy Petro, chief claims officer for Mercury Insurance. “Most states don’t require enough supervised behind the wheel training to adequately prepare teens to drive on their own, so it’s up to parents to take the time to teach their kids how to drive. I recommend you drive with them a lot. If you need milk, make them drive to the store. If you need to take another child to soccer practice, get everyone in the car and have your teen drive.” It’s important to remember, however, that you need to stay calm in the passenger seat. If your teen makes a mistake, don’t jump on them for it. Wait until you reach your destination then discuss it with them. You want them focused on the road, not on a lecture from mom or dad.
And speaking of staying focused on the road, you should make it very clear that distracted driving is very dangerous and won’t be tolerated. No texting while driving. No eating while driving. No posting selfies while driving. No searching the phone for the perfect song while driving. All of these activities reduce driver reaction time so much that it’s equal to being legally drunk behind the wheel, according to a University of Utah study. “Most of us wouldn’t dream of driving drunk, but those same people won’t think twice about playing with iTunes while eating a cheeseburger while driving,” says Petro.
For tips and resources to help you prepare your teen to drive, take a look at the Drive Safe Challenge website created by Mercury Insurance.
It’s pretty much impossible to keep teens away from social media, especially when 88 percent own a smartphone and primarily use it to connect with friends via social channels, according to a report on the Huffington Post. “My daughter, if she had it her way, would be on her phone all hours of the day,” says Marlee Walsh, whose 17-year- old daughter is a high school junior.
While growing up in a world with a 24/7 connection to friends and outsiders can be a lot of fun for teens, it can also put them at risk.
Start discussing healthy habits early on for when and how to use social media so their mental, emotional and even physical state stays positive. Discuss smart social media use and make sure all of their accounts are set to the strictest privacy settings, where only their friends and family can see their posts. This is an important step because most sites allow any user to view another user’s information by default. Create clear guidelines for what they should and shouldn’t share on social media and instruct them to only accept friend requests from people they know. “Having an open discussion and coming to an agreement together allowed us to setup guidelines that help keep her safe,” Walsh added.
Ultimately, your teen has the power to control what they do on social media, but you can stay in touch with their activity. One app called My Mobile Watch Dog helps parents see how their children are using their smartphones. Another app, Net Nanny Social, keeps a watchful eye on social media accounts and includes features that filter content, deal with privacy concerns, identify and prevent cyberbullying or inappropriate friendships and removes damaging pictures or videos.
It’s only natural for kids to want to fit in and feel accepted by their peers, and every parent wants their child to have friends. Teens are the demographic that are most influenced by their friends, which can have good and bad consequences. Peer pressure has only increased with technology, and kids want to be accepted by a group while seeking independence. So, how do you tackle this difficult topic without seeming controlling or overbearing?
Talk to your teen and have authentic conversations so that he feels safe talking to you about what’s going on in his life. Talk to your teen about what values are important to you, and make sure she knows it’s okay to refuse to do something that she believes is wrong. Reinforce and encourage good habits and take part in productive activities. Be present in his life by showing up when it counts, learning about what he loves and get to know his friends. It’s also important to lead by example and demonstrate good behaviors through your own actions.
As a parents, you can provide the tools your children need to make good choices. So talk to them and help guide them down the path to becoming the person they were meant to be.
This guest post was provided by Mercury Insurance, which offers an interactive website and defensive driving program to provide teens with detailed safety instruction. Follow Mercury Insurance on Facebook and Instagram.