When I was a new driver in my teens, mom and dad knew little about what I did in their cars. They learned about my lead foot when I came home with a speeding ticket. Dad was suspicious about my distracted driving when I burned through brake pads at an alarmingly fast rate, but he lacked proof. And that minor fender bender? Well, let’s say I was good at pounding it back out before they could notice. Today, nothing is a secret. Teens are just as likely to leave the house without pants as traveling anywhere without a cell phone. A parent can monitor a child from anywhere with ever-increasing accuracy and detail. And parents are learning more and more about their driving habits with software that tracks their coordinates, speeding, and unsafe driving in general. But on nights when I must work late in the office, it is nice to know that my son made it home safely from football practice. And I want to know if my daughter’s perfect driving record is more about luck than her driving under the speed limit. If either child were to ever be in a car accident, I would want to know immediately. But all this monitoring can feel so, big brother. And if not handled appropriately, can lead to friction and even rebellion.
Start with “why.”
Many apps on the market are practical and easy to use, but they all have the same drawback: they require users to bring their phones and leave them turned on. For example, Keep’s Knight device uses an anchoring system that prohibits removal from your car. And if the device loses power, somebody will notify you. In other words, when your child steps into your vehicle, they are being monitored. So how do you help your kids embrace this? Like everything in parenting, start with why. Be intentional about the purpose of your monitoring and how you plan to use the platform. Before installing any monitoring service, share what you are concerned about and the limits of how much you want to know. Help your teen driver understand that you are primarily concerned with their safety and helping them avoid “unsafe events.” Preaching will go in one ear and out the other, so use a personal example. We were all beginners behind the wheel at one point. And we didn’t have it figured out the day we passed our driver’s test. Adults learned lessons the hard way, getting pulled over by police, getting into accidents, and putting themselves into dangerous situations. By monitoring your child’s driving, you hope to act as a coach to help them grow as a driver much faster than you did.
It is a two-way street
Adults are far from perfect drivers, even with years of experience on our children. I can think of a few occasions when my daughter called me out for glancing at my phone while driving. And I’ve been known to hammer the breaks in traffic on days when I was distracted by both kids fighting in the backseat of the car. Offer to open up your driving to the same level of scrutiny. Encourage your kids to call you out when they see a trip when your driving wasn’t up to the standards you set for the family. Monitoring one-way can feel unfair. After all, if you are such a great driver, what do you have to hide? So put yourself in the game and set a great example with actions, not words.
More feedback isn’t always better
It would be hard to argue that monitoring makes anyone’s life materially better if every deviation warranted an immediate phone call like, “Hey, I noticed you were driving 31 mph in a 25 zone, so slow down!” Unfortunately, that type of micro-management shows no trust and even less grace. If your children show a pattern of erratic driving, intervene. But a more impactful approach would be commending them after a week of incredible driving, “By the way, I am very proud of the safe driver you are becoming. You are taking this responsibility seriously, and it’s not going unnoticed.” Only monitor more when it is warranted, “You told me you were going to Bill’s house, but instead, you drove across state lines. Our relationship requires trust, and it will take a while for me to believe your word now. So expect that I will be watching closely.”
Make technology work for you
One of the most stressful periods of parenting is watching our children become teenagers. They face incredible pressure to fit in, and we see less and less of them all the time. And knowing they are behind the wheel of a 3,000-pound vehicle is enough to keep all of us up late at night. Before installing any safe-driving software or device:
- Make it clear why you are doing it (to keep your kids safe and protect innocent people they might put in harm’s way).
- Set the ground rules and make clear what good driving means to you.
- Put yourself up to the same level of scrutiny and ask your kids to hold you every bit as accountable to your own rules.
Finally, have fun with this. Make it a game to see who can have the safest week of driving. Compete for who can string together the longest daily streak of safe driving and talk about it over dinner. Get better together and use technology to make your family safer.