Electronic Helicopter Parents

Youth Specialties
September 1st, 2009

teen-driver Today’s USA Today reports that Ford Motor Company is unveiling something new, aimed at helping teen drivers practice safe driving.

MyKey lets parents configure one key as the teen’s. When the car is started with MyKey, top speed can be limited to 80 mph, and chimes can be set to sound at 45 mph, 55 mph and 65 mph.

Seat belt use is encouraged in two ways: If the driver and passenger don’t put on their belts, a chime sounds until they do. Possibly more important to teens: The audio system won’t turn on until the front two passengers are buckled up.

It can also max out the audio at half volume (which is still plenty loud), keep track of the young driver’s mileage and provide earlier low-fuel warnings than standard. full article

It all sounds so reasonable, doesn’t it? A device that prevents kids from dangerous behavior is probably a good thing. I’ve had students get in serious car accidents. I’ve witnessed teen drivers be involved and even cause fatal car accidents. And I certainly know the dangers and statistics about teen drivers.

Yet, I can’t help but point out that MyKey treats the symptoms of the problem without solving the problem. (Perhaps this amplifies the problem by electronically preventing poor driving?) The problem isn’t the cars ability to go fast, play loud music, or beep when the seat belt isn’t in use. The problem is that we don’t expect teens to be safe drivers. The problem is that when a child gets a citation for reckless driving that the parents keep giving their child the keys. As with other monitoring devices, this gives parents the ability to monitor their behavior without ever having a conversation with their child. Isn’t this just another tethering device that, in effect, prevents teenagers from growing up, learning from their mistakes, and getting a taste of freedom?Isn’t adolescence all about individuation, experimentation, and learning how to be a unique person away from parents?

Five years ago, youth workers started to notice the helicopter parent phenomenon. Kids had to call mom or dad constantly to inform them of their latest position, what they were doing, who they were with. Additionally, parents were anywhere they were allowed. I remember looking out my youth room window while teaching and seeing 2-3 parents spying in… just to keep an eye on what their kid was doing. Now, thanks to mobile phones GPS, cars GPS, and devices like MyKey, parents can call their child at any second as well as monitor their behavior via satellite. We are moving from helicopter parents to satellite parents. And I’m not sure that’s a good thing for adolescent development.


Youth Specialties

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