We all tell our teenagers to never, ever text behind the wheel. Yet every time I leave the house, I see a young driver staring at a phone screen while driving. I’ve always wondered what their parents would think.
For a friend of mine, that dilemma became a reality. She was driving around town when a friend’s son sped past her, staring at his screen. What to do? She didn’t want to get the teenager in trouble. But she also hoped another parent would tell her if one of her teenagers was doing something that dangerous.
For decades, parents have faced these tough situations. Bullying, drugs and alcohol, reckless driving. Sometimes we learn something about a friend’s teenager that they should know. When should we talk to another parent? What if our friend doesn’t want to know that her teenager is misbehaving? And what if my teenager suffers as a result of my tattling? Even worse, what if it ruins my friendship?
There are many things to consider before talking to another parent, but it’s important to know when telling is the right thing to do.
After hearing from many parents that they would want to know if their kid were texting and driving, my friend decided to talk to the teen’s mom about what she saw. Grateful for the information, the mom spoke to her child about responsible driving. Even though she was torn about it at first, my friend is now glad she had that conversation. It just might have saved a life.
3 Suggestions for gracefully handling sticky situations with fellow parents:
1. Make teen safety the top priority.
Some teenagers’ risky behavior doesn’t put themselves or others in serious danger. But if the conduct could result in injury or death, it’s time to talk to the parent. In 2014, distracted driving resulted in 3,179 deaths and 431,000 injuries, yet teens continue to text behind the wheel. Ask yourself—if you don’t speak up, how will you feel if that teen’s distracted driving results in deaths or injuries? Even if the teenager’s parents are upset, if it saves a life it will be well worth it.
2. Make a Pact
Proactively attacking the issue could be the best approach. Some parents make a pact with friends. They agree to always talk to another parent when something comes up with their children. As teens start driving, these types of promises become especially important, since teen drivers are nearly three times more likely to be in a fatal crash than someone 20 years of age or older. With an agreement in place, you’ll report these incidents, and they’ll report to you. So you’ll ensure you’re among the first to know if your own kids are putting themselves in danger. (Note that even with a pact, feelings can get hurt, so be prepared.)
3. Speak to the Teen
If you’re uncomfortable approaching the teen’s parents, another option may be to communicate your concerns directly. If your own teenager is a friend of the offending teen, mention what you saw and say that you’re considering having a conversation with the parents. Your teenager may choose to have a talk with the friend instead. If you can call or speak to the teen in person, express your concerns and state that if you see the teen texting behind the wheel again, you’ll say something to his or her parents.