Driven

"Always on" lifestyle may hold hidden dangers

Posted Sep 16, 2015

The “always on” lifestyle of today’s teens proffers images of happy, healthy young people propelled through endless days by a hyperkinetic force field allowing them to achieve almost anything. Well, save the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

But lurking behind that façade may be something more sinister, according to new research from SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) and Liberty Mutual Insurance: a pervasive fear of missing out – referred to as “FoMO” (2015).

What’s the harm?

The data reveal that FoMO is directly linked to unsafe driving behaviors. For example, one-third (37 percent) of teens report texting while driving to confirm or coordinate the details of upcoming events. A similar number, 34 percent, report taking their eyes off the road to check incoming app notifications. The most popular apps they report using while driving include Snapchat (38 percent), Instagram (20 percent), Twitter (17 percent), Facebook (12 percent) and YouTube (12 percent).

“Today’s hyper-connected teens’ ‘fear of missing out’ can put young drivers at risk on the road as they may be more plugged into their devices than the actual driving task,” said Dr. William Horrey, Ph.D., principal research scientist at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety. “Teens may be at higher risk because they don’t always have the attentional capacity to deal with all the complexities on the road. These distractions may be even more significant with teens due to their relative driving inexperience. It’s so important for parents and teens to recognize and talk about these dangerous distractions to ensure better safety behind the wheel.”

No doubt parents have a key role to play in keeping their young drivers safe on the road. But they may also be a part of the problem. To wit, the study revealed that more than half of teen drivers text while driving in order to provide updates to their parents.

But do their parents disapprove?

As in many facets of parent-teen relationships, there appears to be a dangerous disconnect. For example, nearly one in five (19 percent) believe that their parents expect a text response within one minute, and 25 percent within five minutes – even while driving. However, more than half of parents surveyed (58 percent) say they have not established expectations for response time. This reality gap suggests a need for more open conversations about driving between parents and teens.

That dialogue can go a long way toward clarifying expectations of young drivers – and older ones as well.

Indeed, earlier SADD/Liberty Mutual Insurance research (2014) found that teens are not the only culprits when it comes to making risky driving decisions. Many adults engage in the same dangerous driving behaviors – including driving without a seat belt, driving and texting, and driving after consuming alcohol – that they warn their children against. Equally alarming, nearly half (41 percent) of teens say their parents continue these unsafe habits behind the wheel even after being asked to stop.

Specifically, parents admit to these dangerous distractions.

Talking on cell phone while driving: 86 percent
Speeding: 80 percent
Texting and driving: 40 percent
Driving after consuming alcohol: 34 percent
Driving without a seat belt: 21 percent

That data also revealed that the majority (83 percent) of teens say their parents engage in unsafe driving with them in the car. For example, 58 percent say they have witnessed their parents texting and driving, and 41 percent have observed them driving without a seat belt.

With teens routinely pointing out that parental driving habits are particularly influential on their own, this risky driving by adults presents a significant problem.

So how best to establish safe driving practices for all members of the family?

Liberty Mutual and SADD encourage parents and teens to consider signing a Parent-Teen Driving Contract. This important tool, which is available online, can serve as a conversation starter about safety issues, which is no small feat. Better yet, it can result in a customized pact that provides both parents and teens with an easy roadmap to create and uphold family driving rules for all.

Perhaps most important, this guide demonstrates a mutual commitment to safe and responsible driving. A signed agreement can also facilitate the kind of mutual trust that can lead to better peace of mind for parents and teens.

Even in a world where everyone seems driven to connect.

Stephen Gray Wallace is president and director of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE), a national collaborative of institutions and organizations committed to increasing positive youth outcomes and reducing risk. He has broad experience as a school psychologist and adolescent/family counselor and serves as senior advisor to SADD, director of counseling and counselor training at Cape Cod Sea Camps, a member of the professional development faculty at the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Camp Association and a parenting expert at kidsinthehouse.com and NBCUniversal’s parenttoolkit.com. For more information about Stephen’s work, please visit StephenGrayWallace.com.