How can I stop my teen from texting while driving?

Last week, Aaron Deveau, 18, was found guilty of motor vehicle homicide by texting and became the first in the state to be sent to prison for driving while texting.

According to reports, after being distracted by his phone, Deveau swerved his car into oncoming traffic. The resulting accident killed a 55-year-old father of three.

In a single moment, many lives were destroyed. But what makes this story even more tragic is that it was so easily avoidable. In the following blog, Boston Children’s Hospital’s media expert, Michael Rich, MD, MPH, director of Boston Children’s Center on Media and Child Health, shares practical tips for parents on how to keep their teens from texting while behind the wheel.

Q: I’ve been begging my teen son not to text while driving, but I know he does it anyway. What can I do to get him to stop?

–Texting and Driving in Beverly, MA

A: Dear Texting and Driving,

You’re right to be concerned–according to a new study from the CDC, one third of U.S. teens report texting while driving. The issue has come front and center this past week, when an 18 year old became the first person in Massachusetts to be convicted of causing a fatal car crash while texting.

Michael Rich, MD, MPH

But stories like this and state prohibitions on texting and driving may not get the reaction you’re looking for from your son. Research shows that knowing it’s dangerous doesn’t necessarily deter some young adults from texting while driving. And because his brain won’t be able to fully process long-term consequences until he’s in his 20s, the idea that an accident like this could happen to him may just not feel real.

To get the message across, try approaching the issue in a way:

  1. Make sure to touch on consequences that he can grasp. Although it’s important to talk about the very real dangers of texting while driving, it might help to also discuss those that are closer to what he has experienced–like not being allowed to drive. The young man who was convicted this week had his license revoked by a judge for 15 years.
  2. Work with him to establish clear rules for cell phone use. He’ll want to have his cell phone with him when he’s in the car, but it doesn’t have to be a distraction. Ask him what would help him keep his eyes on the road–turning the phone off completely? Leaving it in the glove compartment or the trunk? If he owns the solution, he is more likely to feel ownership of it and to abide by it.
  3. Together, create real consequences for not abiding by the rules. Agree ahead of time on what happens if he does text while driving. Maybe for a period of time he loses the privilege of driving the car–or of having a phone.
  4. Praise what he does well, and follow through on the consequences when he slips up. Both will reinforce how important this issue is.
  5. Model the behavior you’d like to see–and put your phone away while you’re driving, too. He will listen far more closely to what you do than to what you say.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,

The Mediatrician®