“Do as I Say, Not as I Do” Is Failing Our Kids, Study Finds

A new study reveals that teens’ parents – the traditional rule enforcers – are the new rule breakers on the road.

An alarming 37 percent of parents admit they do not enforce punishments when their teen breaks a rule – including the law, such as texting while driving. Why aren’t there consequences? More than a third of parents say it’s an inconvenience to enforce the rules, according to a study conducted by Liberty Mutual Insurance. Another excuse is that it’s hard to monitor their teens.

The trouble doesn’t stop at parents’ failure to impose a punishment when a teen breaks the rules. Tragically, parents are exhibiting dangerous driving habits themselves, frequently as often as their teens do. In fact, 37 percent of parents surveyed use apps while driving compared to 38 percent of teens.

Some parents might not be totally honest about their driving habits either. Twenty percent of parents admit to texting and driving, while 30 percent of teens say their parents are texting while driving. The survey found that 36 percent of teens say their parents claim more experience as the justification for these bad behaviors.

Parents: We’re Looking at You to Set an Example

Parents need to act immediately to protect their teenage child, themselves, and everyone else on the road. There are several things they can do to encourage safe driving behaviors, according to Dr. Gene Beresin, executive director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and Mike Sample, MS, CSP, lead driving safety expert & technical consultant at Liberty Mutual.

Dr. Beresin and Sample’s tips include:

  • Set rules and enforce them: If you’re having difficulty keeping tabs on what your teen is doing, tools like RightTrack can help you monitor behavior on the road. It observes a person’s driving habits and offers rewards for safe choices they make on the road. If a teen breaks a rule, an effective consequence should encourage a behavior change. They recommended the consequence be connected to the original behavior, such as taking away driving privileges for one week.
  • Experience doesn’t always equal safe: No matter how many years you have been driving, it is important as a parent to model good driving behavior and follow the rules of the road. If parents aren’t following rules, they aren’t being good role models for their teen and are showing them that rules aren’t important.
  • Encourage open communication: Speak with your teen about safe driving practices beginning at a young age. The Teen Driving Contract can be a conversation starter and discussion guide. EndDD.org offers a free Family Safe Driving Agreement so family members can hold one another accountable to be safe drivers.

“In speaking with parents about distracted driving at businesses and conferences, I ask parents to raise their hands if they would do anything to keep their children safe, and every hand is raised,” said Joel Feldman, co-founder of EndDD.org. “I then ask them to keep their hands up only if they don’t drive distracted with their kids in the car. Nearly every hand is lowered, and many parents’ faces reflect embarrassment and shame.”

Simply put, we as parents cannot drive distracted if we want our children to do the same. “By enlisting our children’s help to make us safer drivers and by being the drivers we want our children to be, we will go a long way toward keeping our children safe,” Joel said.