5 Tips to End Distracted Driving Among Teens

Teen Distracted Driving

FTC Disclosure

Spring is in the air, and for many parents of high schoolers talk has turned toward prom and graduation parties. I look back on my experience in high school and better understand why my parents, and my friends’ parents, were worried about us driving. Like kids today, we weren’t bad drivers. But, like kids today, we often did stupid things after prom and at graduation parties. Today, though, every conversation seems to wind its way to the topic of distracted driving or texting and driving.

Distracted driving is nothing new when it comes to teen driving. Young people have faced distractions for decades. Today it’s texting, for my generation it was changing the radio or cassettes, for my mom’s generation it was radio stations and 8-track tapes. And, of course there is alcohol, shenanigans, and a host of other potential distractions. But when it comes to technology, we forget that every generation has their new thing that is problematic.

So what do we do? Obviously, teens are going to drive to prom and graduation parties and we can’t change that. What we can change, though, is their commitment to stay focused on their driving. And, honestly, that starts with us.

I’m not a big believer in having kids sign a ‘no texting while driving’ contract when the parents aren’t going to do the same thing. We’re their role models. If we do it, we’re giving them permission. Just like drinking and driving. We can tell our kids not to drink and drive, but we also demonstrate our commitment by not drinking and driving. It’s not different when it comes to other distractions.

Teens 15 to 19 have the highest incident of drivers involved in accidents while distracted. While they’re out celebrating the last thing we want is for any of them to get hurt or hurt someone else. So what can we do?

5 Tips For Helping to End Distracted Driving

Don’t drive distracted yourself. We set the example. If we’re picking up our phones, that mean they can too. I know there are important messages we need to see. But are those messages really that important to put the people you love most at risk? In March, 2016 the New Zealand Transport Agency released a video with a slightly different approach to the traditional horrifying texting and driving ad. It’s a new approach, and I think it could work better. While I’m still affected by the texting and driving crash videos, I think many kid are desensitized or don’t think it could really happen to them.


Know the law. If the law of mom and dad won’t work, maybe the state law will. Currently, in the US, 46 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands, ban texting while driving. The fines can be hefty, and getting a ticket, even if that’s the worst that happens, can put a damper on the fun of prom or the graduation party. However, distractions don’t only come from picking up your own phone.

Have someone else navigate. As the driver, their job is to get themselves and their passengers to the destination safely. Since they’re not always experienced with driving around town, have the teen ask a passenger to put in the destination into the GPS or map. Have you ever tried to type in an address to Google Maps or the vehicle GPS while driving? I can barely figure out the navigation on a car I drive daily. Imagine how challenging it can be for a teen who’s not used to driving.

Use a blocking app. If you’re not sure you or your teen can break the urge to check your phone when you hear the notification or know that friends are posting cool things to social media, use an app to block texting while driving. Just like not having chips in the house because you have no willpower, remove the temptation to be distracted while driving. I often pull out my phone at a stop light, but more and more I’m realizing that even that small glance means I’m not paying attention to what’s going on around me.

Empower the passenger. Most of the focus is on getting the driver to avoid distractions. However, just like educating the kids about not getting in a car with their friend if the friend has been drinking the same goes for getting into a car with someone who’s not paying attention when they drive. I know there’s less risk of being the lame-o if you refuse to get in the car of a classmate who’s drunk or noticeably impaired than if you don’t go along with all the “fun” when it comes to distracted driving. It’s new territory for us as parents to let our kids know we’ll go pick them up if they choose not to get in a vehicle with someone texting and driving or engaging in other behaviors that put the passengers at risk. You’ve seen the videos. Maybe your kids have too. But it’s worth watching again.

The end to distracted driving starts with us. But we don’t know what other parents are modeling for their kids. And because we don’t know what other people are modeling and teaching their kids, we have to teach our kids not only that they don’t text and drive or drive while distracted but that they don’t get in a car with someone who doesn’t take seriously their obligation to protect their passengers.

Accidents happen. We can hope our kids always arrive safely, but there are other drivers out there and we don’t have any control over them. We may not have full control over what our kids do when they get behind the wheel or hop in the car with one of their friends. However, what we can do starts long before the engine starts.


Image Credit: Viktor Hanacek


Smartphone Etiquette – 6 Rules For Teens and Tweens

Smartphone Etiquette Tips For Teens

FTC Disclosure

When it comes time to hand our kids their first smartphone we’re often so focused on keeping them safe from predators and bullying that we forget to talk to them about basic smartphone etiquette. Our kids are digital natives so we think they’re familiar with how to use their phone. After all, they have been using our devices for years.

But using our phones and tablets to play games and watch videos didn’t teach them how to be a good smartphone user. It taught them other skills, but not many of the skills we take for granted and just assume our kids know. While we’ve had to weave tech into our parenting, there are many “old school” parenting things we’re still responsible to teach.

6 Smartphone Etiquette Rules for Teens & Tweens

  1. How to properly answer a call. Don’t leave! Seriously, we have to teach our kids how to properly answer a call. Remember, when we grew up we had a landline and often raced our siblings or begged our parents to answer the phone. Some of us even created “an adult voice” so we could convince our parents we’d be OK to stay home by ourselves. But we practiced answering the phone – saying hello, being polite, asking for the person to identify themselves. Sure, there’s caller-ID, but what if they don’t recognize the number but they’re expecting you or another family member to call? What if it’s the school or a potential employer? And, yes, I know, chances are kids will let the call go to voice mail, but one day they may get a job where they have to answer a telephone and I’m sure they won’t want to tell their boss they don’t know how.
  2. How to make a phone call. I know, you’re thinking I’ve lost my mind and kids know how to make a phone call. Honestly though, I don’t think so. They text, they don’t call. And if they do call, it’s likely mom or dad they’re calling. Again, we practiced making calls. We’d call the grandparents and leave a message, or we’d call the store to see if something was in stock, or we’d call our friends and have to get past their parents. We did a lot of calling that kids today don’t need to do. That’s why teaching them how to make a proper phone call is so important. First impressions still count!
  3. Respect other people’s privacy. This has many applications, but I’m specifically talking about respecting the privacy of another person if you’re using their phone. While one of the rules most parents have for their kids is not to let their friends use their phone, there may be times when someone has to use their phone or they have to ask a friend to use their phone. Dead batteries happen, so let’s ensure our kids know not to go looking through a friend’s phone. Even more important, if they’re ever in a position that they’re being encouraged by friends to take another kid’s phone and snoop they may be more likely to think twice and not do it. Or, play along until they can tell an adult. But this idea of respecting privacy also means not looking over your shoulder to see what their friends are texting or trying to spy their password or unlock pattern.
  4. Be mindful of other people. It’s great that kids can keep themselves entertained while waiting. However, no one wants to listen to their music, text notifications, sounds from games, or any other sounds your smartphone can make. They can play games and listen to music, but they need to have the device on silent or use headphones.
  5. Do not share private information. Maybe not so much traditional etiquette as it is general rules for having a smartphone, but important enough to include it here. When we were their age we were constantly told not to tell people on the other side of the phone that our parents weren’t home. And while some people have had our address, we weren’t tagged with GPS for the whole world to find us. Of course we need to teach them not to disclose private information on apps or in game chats or on messaging apps. However, our private information is more easily disclosed inadvertently with geotagging, answering basic questions from “friends” (many of whom the kids have never met), or including information in photos (whether purposefully or accidentally). We need to be clear what is and is not private information, so the kids don’t have to wonder.
  6. Don’t interrupt a face-to-face conversation to use your phone. This is the general rule. And yes, there are exceptions – like when mom is calling. Generally, though, if they’re placing their order at the coffee shop, checking out at a store, or having a face-to-face conversation with someone they shouldn’t answer the phone whether it’s a call or text. It may be difficult, so you may need to role play this. While younger people may have more tolerance for this, in situations where you’re buying things it can cause miscommunication or delays that could easily be avoided by giving the situation their full attention.

Overall, I’m sure you’d agree these are pretty basic rules and likely easy for kids to follow. But while they’re easy to follow rules, some will require practice (and patience). For the most part though, even though they may not be intuitive for teens and tweens, I think kids will find them helpful. What do you think? Should there be other rules?

Smartphone Etiquette for Teens and Tweens

Photo Credit for top image.
Photo Credit for bottom image.


Back To School Tech Tips To Keep Parents Sane and Kids Safe

Back To School Tech Tips

FTC Disclosure

It’s back to school season and for many it means new tech and upgrades to existing tech, and not just for the kids. Parents are often introduced to new technology to help kids with homework, communicate with the school, or just stay connected in an increasingly connected world. Kids may be experiencing new technology at school, switching phones, or trying out different accessories. Whatever it is, back to school marks a time for transition.

Whether it’s the same routine or something new, when it comes to going online more and more young people are connecting through smartphones or tablets. This makes learning possible everywhere. That’s good. But with the good comes the bad. And that’s where it’s important to re-evaluate how you approach internet security. So, here are a few back to school tech tips for keeping your family in tip-top shape.

Back To School Tech Tips To Keep Parents Sane and Kids Safe

  1. Keep it charged – Many kids are given tablets at school and are responsible for bringing them to school every day fully charged. In addition to having a designated charging station at home, think about having a portable battery to help keep them connected throughout the day. Especially important with older kids, having an external battery will help them do their work without having to be tethered to a wall. Or, having to deal with running out of power just as they’re in the zone. You may even want to invest in a car charger just incase they realize on the way to school they don’t have much power.
  2. Protect the screen – whether it’s with a case or a separate screen protector, don’t leave the screen exposed. Tiny dirt and dust particles can scratch the screen, making it difficult to use over time. Many people worry about cracking the screen. And while that’s a real concern, the fact is a scratched screen is annoying and may impacts the quality of what you see on the screen.
  3. Individualize it with a case – Sure a case can protect the device, but why not sell it as a way to personalize their device. With so many kids having the same type of device it’s easy to get them mixed up. With smartphones there are so many case options and most of us show our personality through our cases and covers. For tablets, especially those issued by the school, if permitted, find a case your child likes to help them take a little more responsibility for their device. Not only does it protect the device, which many parents may not realize they are responsible for, but a cool case also gives the device some personality and helps differentiate it from the sea of black and silver tablets on a table.
  4. Talk about online safety – I know you’ve had the talk before. But just like having to remind your child to turn off the lights, not slam the car door, or take a shower (yes, every day!), talking to kids about online safety is an ongoing and continuous conversation. Kids may think they know everything about being online, but the fact is that many kids are vulnerable and need to be reminded that sometimes things aren’t as they seem. Making mistakes online in this day and age can have long-term and very serious consequences. Teens and tweens, especially, need to know that you’re ultimately responsible for what they do online.
  5. Don’t just talk, take action – As parents, we do a lot of talking. When it comes to online safety for our kids, though, we have to take action. Whether it’s checking their device daily, requiring an approved family member or friend to be friended on their social network, or adding parental controls to their devices, we can talk all we want but action is required. It’s not about not trusting our kids, it’s about not trusting the freaks out there. If you’ve never used IFTTT, or don’t use it for this purpose, here’s an easy way to keep on top of what’s going on. Check out these IFTTT recipes to help keep your kids safe online.
  6. Trust your gut – Too many times we second guess our gut when it comes to what our kids are doing online. This isn’t the time to worry about if our kids think we’re annoying (we are, we’re parents!), being the cool parent (we are the cool parents!), or respecting their privacy. If you’re not hovering over them 24/7, you’re likely giving your kids the privacy they’ve earned. Earned, that’s right. Privacy is not a right in the Kingdom of Mom and Dad. In Mom and Dad Ville, the right to search and seizure is without limits. In Momtopia, you may have the right to be silent but unreasonable search and seizure is a real possibility. Trust your parenting gut when it comes to the safety of your kids. You may need to tone down how you want to react, but if you get that feeling, don’t over-react, just act.

Back to school is filled with so many emotions. But those emotions don’t have to carry through the school year. With a keen eye and a kind heart, our amazing kids will make it through another year. And so will we!

What tips to do you to help keep everything in check during the school year?


New Year 2014 Says Goodbye to 2013

New Year 2014 New Year 2014

As the year closes, we tend to look back on the year and reflect. It’s normal. We grow up hearing about new year resolutions, listening to adult talk about how things didn’t turn out as planned, and what they’ll do differently in the coming year. It’s a lot of pressure for a kid, or even a young adult.

We’re expected to make each year better than the one before. But how is that possible? It’s only possible if you look back at the prior twelve months and see them as needing to be changed. We’re conditioned to focus on the negative and change it instead of looking at the positive and perpetuate it. The conversation turns, in an instant, from “the joy of the season” to 101 reasons we need to change ourselves, our lives, our circumstances.

Although trite, we can’t change the past. We can, however, reframe it and see it for what it is. A moment in time. Sometimes we just need a little perspective. My aunt relayed a story to me about the opening of the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. Many years ago she and my uncle were invited to be among the special guests at the United States Holocaust Museum before it opened to the public. They were two of about 100 people, most of whom were Holocaust survivors. It was cold and rainy and dreary as they all sat under a tent listening to various speakers, including the President. My aunt looked at me squarely and said “It was cold, but we didn’t complain. How could we? We were among people who survived the Holocaust, surely we could bear a little rain and cold.”

Perspective. It’s easy to head down a rabbit hole of negativity, “what if”, or “why me”. Our minds can pull us away from the light and positive thoughts if we allow it. We can judge ourselves harshly if we read social media or look at all the photos posted and question why our lives aren’t as fabulous, interesting, or filled with new and sparkly things.

We’ve allowed technology to give us a glimpse into a world that used to be private. We’ve used technology to put our lives out there for others to see, and judge. We love our tech. I write about it here.

But I also hope that I encourage you to look ahead and plan for a life you really want. Use technology to amplify and beautify your life. Put away the technology and look inside yourself and see what others see. Find a way to make 2014 more about you sharing YOU with yourself.

It doesn’t matter if you have a basic flip phone or a smartphone, use it to connect with others. No camera phone? Doesn’t matter, you can still document your life. And share it. No money to buy apps? Grab the free ones and us them to your advantage. Whether it’s to be more fit, get daily affirmations, or play games to pass time waiting at places you’d rather not be, use technology to your advantage.

We look around and see what others have and think we’re missing out. We compare ourselves and what we have. Or don’t have. We get stuck looking in the past and lamenting what wasn’t. We look forward and hope and wish. Yet we don’t breathe in and enjoy the present.

We all have 24 hours each day yet we choose to spend many moments staring down at a screen or looking through a lens. Technology can’t give us more time, but it can help us better use our time. We can carry all those great books with us, easily. We can listen to brilliant people share information. We can speak to people we miss dearly.

The beginning of 2014 isn’t about looking back at 2013 and lamenting how it wasn’t the year we hoped for. It’s also not a time to look ahead and hope for things to happen. If we resolve to take each day as it comes and make it the best day possible, we won’t have to look back or look forward to find times for joy and happiness.

Look back at all the photos you took in 2013. Do they represent the people, places, things, and experiences that brought you the most joy. We’re quick to click, post, and share so others now see how cool we are. In life, though, it’s not about the photos. They’ll fade (or, in our case, more likely become inaccessible as technology advances), we’ll forget the names. We’ll be overwhelmed by the thousands of photos that we’ve saved to document how wonderful our life is.

In the end, though, it’s the pictures in our mind that stay with us. The stories we can share over and over again. The people who will listen and laugh and cry. Some for the first time, and others who were there the first time.

Don’t look back. Don’t look forward. Look around and appreciate right now.

Disclosure: This post is part of a series on lifestyle technology I write as a Verizon Insider. No compensation was provided, but I do have a business relationship with Verizon Wireless and am periodically provided products to sample.



LG G2, The Device For Everyday Superheroes

Hermione Halloween

Low light photo of Hermione taken with LG G2, unedited

Just as I felt I’d finally mastered my Samsung Galaxy S4, Verizon Wireless asked me to “tech drive” the new LG G2. Who says no to being one of the first to use this cutting-edge device? Not this Verizon Insider! Besides, CycleGuy’s been eyeing my S4 for awhile. So, with the LG G2 in hand I quickly discovered this isn’t like other phones. In a good way!

I’ll leave the tech specs to the experts. You don’t come here for that anyway, do you? The LG G2 has a nice big screen and the lack of buttons on the front really gives it a clean look. The toggles on the back are really easy to use, especially if you have smaller hands. People like the Incredible Hulk, Tron, or Iron Man really shouldn’t get this phone. Besides being hard on their tech, I really think this is more for the Wonder Woman or even Katniss types. A device for smart women who are busy trying to save their world from all kinds of craziness.

If you’re looking for a mobile device that calls people, texts, checks email, and gets online this LG G2 can do that. It’s typical of Android phones in that regard. Where it stands out as unique among Android devices is the camera and several key features.

With a 13MP camera with Optical Image Stabilization, the LG G2 rivals most decent point-and-shoot cameras. I actually like it better than my stand-alone camera because of the image stabilization and several other camera features. You may wonder when you’d use it, but I’m here to tell you that audio zoom makes this camera unique. Audio Zoom allows you to zoom in on the audio you want to hear. You know, like when you kid is in the play or talking outside and others are around. I used it at a robotics tournament to pick up the kids from my team when they were talking to judges in an auditorium filled with other teams. It was much more clear, making the video usable. I also used it at a youth symphony concert to get better sound.

And speaking of my daughter, do your kids want to use your phone in the car or while waiting? BabyGirl has her own tablet but it’s a wi-fi only device. So when we’re out doing errands and she wants to look something up she’ll use my phone. Only problem is that I don’t want her being distracted by all of my apps. Enter Guest Mode. While I’d never hand over my phone to just anyone, knowing that I can set up a profile just for my daughter and limit her access to a few apps while she’s on my phone makes it easier to allow her to use my phone. And the phone size is perfect for her smaller hands and I don’t worry about her dropping it.

This phone may be the one to make me give up my iPhone for good!

Disclosure: As stated above, Verizon Wireless provided me with an LG G2. This post reflects my views and opinions and was not reviewed or edited by a third-party. I do, however, have a business relationship with Verizon Wireless and thus I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.