Despite knowing that their kids are driving, an alarming number of parents continue to text, expecting replies within minutes.
We have talked a lot on TreeHugger about the problems with helicopter parenting – how taking such an over-involved approach to raising children can end up impeding their ability to develop as independent, confident young adults. Now there is yet another, even more compelling reason why helicopter parenting is a bad idea: it could spell your child’s death.
A survey conducted by Boston-based Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students against Destructive Decisions have found that parents are often the ones texting their kids, despite knowing that their kids are driving. To make matters worse, 29 percent of texting parents expect a reply from their kids before they reach their destination. An earlier version of the survey found that 1 in five parents wants an answer within one minute, and 25 percent expect a response within five minutes.
“This was especially true if the messages came from Mom. By examining implicit attitudes among teenagers, the survey found that teens tend to believe that a message coming from their mother is more important than one coming from their father or a friend.”
Important enough to risk their life responding, which seems rather foolhardy – an “error-likely” situation, one might call it. Traffic deaths in the United States are up 9 percent over the first half of 2016 – that’s 19,000 people dead on highways between January and August – due in large part to the ubiquitous presence of distracting smartphones in cars.
Parents do not practice what they claim to preach in a number of ways. First, their texts are a temptation to teens, a form of communication that is hard to resist. It is so easy, almost instinctive, to shoot back a text, that it hardly seems risky at all.
Second, parents are guilty of exhibiting irresponsible behavior themselves. In the survey, 38 percent of teens reported their parents texting while driving. Responses to the kids’ voiced concerns ranged from “I’m a more experienced driver” (58 percent) to “This is important” (7 percent).
Seriously, parents need to take a big step back and leave off the helicopter parenting. They need to realize that it’s not the end of the world if their kid doesn’t reply instantly, and kids should understand that they will not die if their communication lifeline isn’t buzzing with messages constantly. There is a time and place for emergencies, as Heidi Stevens writes for the Chicago Tribune:
“If your child is in a potentially dangerous situation – at a school in which a shooting breaks out, a concert at which a stage has collapses, a Cubs game that’s evacuated for a bomb threat – of course you want and need to be updated ASAP. But a blanket expectation that your texts will be answered within a minute – even five minutes – may be a sign that you’re not giving your kids enough space to grow up and exist happily without you at their side (or in their pockets) at all times.”
No text is so important that it’s worth a potentially fatal car crash, and helicopter parents would do well to remember that before succumbing to the urge to check in, once again.