Did we ever think about texting dangers when cell phones first came out? It seems that, as things change, parents have an increasing number of things to worry about. Cell phones are everywhere, and many teens have one. However, it's probably safe to say that the majority of them don't think about how the ways in which they use them can put them at risk. Many adults may not readily think of them either.
Here are some texting dangers that parents should be on the lookout for.
Texting and Driving – A Deadly Combination
My parents were worried about me fiddling with the cassette player when I was a new driver. Now, parents must worry about MP3 players, GPS systems and cell phones. It might seem obvious, but texting and driving don't go together. Any time your teen's attention is taken off the road, it is a set up for an accident. As those of us who drive know, potential dangers come up fast when you are driving. If you are distracted, you can't react appropriately or in time.
A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute spells out how dangerous texting and driving truly is. Researchers studied drivers operating their own vehicles for a collective distance of more than six million miles. Texting was not studied in those operating cars, but texting while driving a truck increased the risk of accident by a stunning 2320%. Dialing a cell phone while driving a car increased risk of an accident by 280%; risk while driving a heavy vehicle increased by 590%.
The researchers concluded that, when texting, one's eyes are off the road for enough time to travel along a road the length of a football field while going 55 miles per hour. That is a long time to not be paying attention to what is happening in front of you. The study states that time not looking at the road is what contributes to the highest number of accidents.
Although laws are still in the works to ban texting while driving, teens should never be texting while driving -- ever. Driving is a privilege for your teen, and you make the rules. For the safety of your teen and for other drivers on the road, no texting while driving needs to be the rule. (The same goes for adults.)
Texting and Sleep – A Subtle Texting Danger
Have you ever seen your teen come down stairs, blurry-eyed, because he hasn't gotten enough sleep? How many times has this been because your child has been up all night texting a friend?
Teens need adequate and uninterrupted sleep in order to be awake and alert for the day ahead. An obvious impact of that sleepiness is on school work, of course. In fact, it's been tied to lower levels of performance in the classroom.
But even more disturbingly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that there are more than 100,000 accidents each year related to drowsiness -- resulting in 1,500 fatalities.
A sleepy teen is an inattentive student -- and driver. If you know or suspect that your child is texting a night, consider make him dock is phone in a common space -- or your room -- every evening.
Sexting – A New Problem
Sexting is a relatively new phenomenon. There have been a number of cases in the news about teens taking sexually explicit pictures of themselves and sending them to someone else. In some cases, a teen intends for the pictures to only be seen by the person he or she sent it to. However, there are cases of these pictures being forwarded to others, which can lead to peer ridicule, shame, or even more public posting.
But there's more. In some cases, the taking and distributing of explicit or sexually-charged images of someone under the age of 18 is a crime (child pornography). What is less clear is how current child pornography laws apply to pictures taken by the minor herself. In addition, how do these laws apply when the picture is being distributed by the intended recipient who is also a minor?
Some state laws are tackling this difficult problem, but parents should be addressing their teens about this issue in the meantime. Some teens have been prosecuted under current law and now have sanctions against them as they are considered sex offenders. Your teen needs to know that there can be serious and life-long consequences of sexting.
Also concerning is the increasing pressure teens feel to be sexual. Statistics on teen and sex indicate that almost half of high school students have not had sex. This is not the message that most teens are getting, though. The impression is that many more teens are having sex, and that your teen is unusual if he or she opts not to.
Having “the talk” with your teen may be uncomfortable, but it is important to keep the lines of communication open with your child regarding the topic of sex. When talking about sex and sexual behavior, consider bringing up the topic of sexting. Your teen does not need to feel or treat himself/herself like a sexual object, despite pressures. Talk about how sexting might influence sexual behavior. Having this discussion might help your teen to see that sexting isn't harmless, and can have consequences later.
Texting dangers can be obvious or they can be subtle. If you are seeing a problem, address it immediately. Texting, like driving, is a privilege and parents have every right to protect their teens from any danger they encounter. Parents can enact common-sense rules to avoid these and other texting dangers. Your teen will protest but, like many rules, it is for his or her own good.
New Data from VTTI Provides Insight into Cell Phone Use and Driving Distraction. Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Accessed: September 13, 2009. http://www.vtti.vt.edu/PDF/7-22-09-VTTI-Press_Release_Cell_phones_and_Driver_Distraction.pdf
Wake Up and Get Some Sleep. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Accessed: September 13, 2009. http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/drowsy_driving1/human/drows_driving/