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Abstinence-only probably not effective for cell phones

By: Lauren Forcella
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Dear Straight Talk: I was shocked at your advice to “Jason’s mom,” whose 17-year-old son informed her he was going to text and drive after the California cell phone ban took effect. You basically told her to get him a Bluetooth. Parents have a responsibility to expect their kids to follow the law, not help them break it. Jason’s mom should tell Jason to follow the law or be prepared to have his car taken away. Surely a 17-year-old relies on some financial assistance in owning a car, and therein lies the leverage for getting him to comply with the law. You have undermined my ability as a parent with this advice. – Thanks for nothing From Brittney, 20: It certainly is safer “politically” to tell your child to follow the rules or lose the car, but most teens engage in restricted activities if they think they can get away with it. With a Bluetooth, there is a better chance they won’t text, which is the main cause of accidents. I agree, the advice sounds “off,” but it’s better to be safer in the true sense of the word, rather than politically safe. From Farren, 20: I’m appalled that teens like Jason disrespect their fellow drivers with something as dangerous as texting and driving. However, this law prohibiting drivers younger than 18 from using their phone is really dumb. And allowing texting for those older than 18 is even dumber. As a parent, it is your job to protect your child. If you think your child is going to text anyway, get him a Bluetooth and insist he use Jott (www.jott.com), which lets you send text messages via voice. From Laura, 21: If your priority is to force your child to toe the line, by all means, give ultimatums. It won’t work, but if it keeps your conscience clean, go ahead. However, if your priority is to keep your child safe, you will take a less dogmatic approach. I cannot overemphasize the importance of trust and cooperation between parents and teens. If you start threatening and using leverage against your kids, I guarantee a backlash. At the very least, they will be evasive and dishonest with you. Parents who listen to their child with an open mind and approach something like the cell phone ban practically and flexibly, have the best chance of getting their teen to comply with their wishes. From Ashley, 20: A 17-year-old should pay for his own legal mistakes. At this age, take it out of the parent’s hand and give it to the law’s. From Lennon, 21: Whoa! If you remove your child’s driving privileges, you end up being the chauffeur – either that or he’ll ride with friends (who likely text or talk while driving). If you want teens to be safer while driving, get them cars with automatic transmissions (which frees up a hand) and insist they use a Bluetooth. Dear Thanks: Consensual sex is illegal in California, too, for those younger than 18, and we know how well abstinence-only education worked. It didn’t. Correct me if I’m wrong, but today’s teens seem to enjoy their cell phones more than sex. For that reason, the abstinence-only law for cell phones behind the wheel of drivers younger than 18 makes me highly uncomfortable. For those who missed the original column, “Jason” and his friends planned to text on their knees out of sight of the cops as a way to beat the law. This mentality – combined with the fact that most families lack the infrastructure and fortitude to enforce the consequences you refer to – is why I will continue to advise parents to realistically size up their cell-phone-addicted juvenile drivers, and if they think they are capable of similar hazardous cell phone use, compromise by getting them a Bluetooth or other hands-free device so the roads are safer for everyone. – Write to Straight Talk at www.StraightTalkForTeens.com or PO Box 963, Fair Oaks CA 95628.