Texting at the wheel

Yesterday I passed a young driver glancing back and forth, between the phone she held below her steering wheel and the intersection around her.

This terrifies me when I see it, for many reasons, not the least of which is that as often as I drive a car, I ride a bicycle.  And the damage a distracted driver can do to a bicycle and its rider is much quicker and greater than the damage she or he can do to another vehicle and its driver.

I imagined two different kinds of things I might say to her (as her parent or as anyone else in her life) about texting behind the wheel.

#1: No texting while you’re driving.  That is so dangerous and in some places it’s against the law.  If I find out you’ve been using your phone while you’re driving, I’ll take it away.

#2: I saw someone typing on her phone while driving today.  Wow, that really frightens me.  I know that kids and teenagers are better with devices than I am, and I know people use their phones behind the wheel all the time and often there’s no problem, but when I think about how easy it would be to get distracted, even for just a second, and swerve, just slightly, into the bike lane…

I’m wondering if you’d be willing to consider pulling over before you answer a call, or send or read a text.  I know it might slow you down, but if I knew that was your plan, I’d be able to worry a whole lot less when you’re driving.

The first is a decree, from authority to subject.  And sometimes decrees work.  Other times they inspire resistance, resentment, rebellion, or all three. Undermining the intention of the communication (to keep the child and others safe).

The second is a request, from person to person.  Specific person to specific person (including in this case the specific concern about the bike lane). In the context of person to person, there tend to be fewer resistance triggers and more opportunities for the recognition of genuine concern and connection. These factors can increase the chances that the content of a communication will get through.

No guarantees, either way, but the two approaches are fundamentally different.  And it’s worth remembering that we get to choose how we talk to each other.  We get to decide which kinds of communications are in keeping with how we want to be and what we think might actually inspire connection and collaboration with the people we care about the very most.

Fear as fact

We often relate to fears and other experiences as factual.  If you find yourself uneasy in response to, for example, the prospect of climbing a ladder, you might say “I’m afraid of heights.”  You don’t say “I’m not comfortable going up there,” or “Wow – I still seem to prefer staying on the ground.”  You might say these things out loud when explaining why you won’t go up the ladder, but you’re likely to make the sweeping fear of heights declaration to yourself. And what you say to yourself about it is what determines how you experience it.

The problem with this kind of declaration is that it can lead to stuckness. And stuckness can get in the way of, among other things, vitality, satisfaction, and desired accomplishment.  If you live your life as though you just are afraid of heights, you don’t give yourself the chance to be afraid of heights sometimes, or to be somewhat afraid of heights, or to be afraid of heights for now.  (There’s also the possibility that what you’re calling fear isn’t even that as much as an advisable caution that many who would say they’re not afraid of heights might benefit from, as they scale rock walls and lean precariously out over the railings of roof decks and such!)  You’re off the hook in some ways if you just plain are afraid, because there’s nothing to examine or manage or challenge about your fear – you can just be that way, and that’s that. Continue reading


I passed a young dad and his baby on the sidewalk tonight.  He was talking quietly to her in that soothing way that parents of young children (and others) often use.

When do we stop talking to them that way?  How old are they when we decide it’s time for them to graduate to a generally sharper more authoritative tone, one that tends to offer instruction, analysis, mandate before the comfort and curiosity that characterizes much of our interaction with infants?

I heard someone say recently, in response to a 2 year-old’s behavior, “Oh, she knows what she’s doing.  She knows she’s pushing my buttons.”  Maybe that’s it.  As soon as we think they know what they’re doing – that they’re capable of directing behavior at us – gone is the benefit of the doubt we grant them when they’re tiny.

What if we gave that benefit of the doubt to older kids?  What if we assumed that their expressions of displeasure or discomfort were just that, and not deliberate plots designed to bother us?  I’m oversimplifying on purpose in the interest of brevity – I know we don’t actively, consciously think that kids are plotting against us when we get frustrated with their resistance to what we want them to do.  But we do often respond as though it’s personal.  We err on the side of taking it as an attack or affront rather than a communication.  What if it were all communication?  All the testing and resistance. What if we listened and responded to it as though it were, just to see what could change if we did?