Does the New Smart Car Help Develop Smart Teens?


Here are some good questions to ask yourself as new technology is introduced to you and your family.

Any adult who has raised teenagers knows how scary it is the first time their teen is given a set of car keys. As much as we may trust them, handing over that level of freedom can be terrifying. General Motors is aware of this fear, and in response, they’ve developed a system in their 2016 Chevrolet Malibu called Teen Driver. It motivates young drivers to be safer behind the wheel, as the vehicle communicates back to mom or dad how far they have traveled, as well as how often they broke the speed limit. It’s a little like having a babysitter or chaperone in the car with them at all times. (You might even call it an accountability partner).

According to Gizmodo, “The Teen Driver system actually generates a driving report based on several metrics including top speed, distance traveled, how many times the driver went over a preset speed limit, and how often the vehicle’s own autonomous safety features had to be activated. And to prevent a teenager from deactivating it once they pull out of the driveway, the Teen Driver mode is PIN-protected by the car’s owner, and is automatically activated when a teen’s fob is used to start the vehicle.” It’s almost foolproof.

Pros and Cons

I’m sure lots of parents would say this is exactly what their son or daughter needs right now. That sixteen year old has a “lead foot,” and this feature will help him stay within the law. Thanks to new technology, we’re worry free. Problem solved… at least, for now.

On the other hand, I wonder if it fosters an even bigger problem. Does it sabotage our requirement for old-fashioned trust and conversation? Does it diminish the need for parents and teens to sit down and really discuss boundaries, values, and responsibility? In one sense, is this car feature another version of the proverbial “video game” that becomes the one-eyed baby-sitter, liberating mom from the need to teach her children to think for themselves, occupy themselves and interact with others? I realize these words may sound like hyperbole, but I always encourage parents, faculty, coaches and administrators to consider the outcomes of all new technology. While it achieves a good goal, we must not allow it to replace human leadership in the home or at school.

It is a bonus, not a game changer, which takes the place of human connection. Starting 50 years ago with the television, then videocassettes and video games, each new iteration of technology has made life easier, but if we’re not careful, it can also remove the need for fundamental connection points during the day. I believe social trends reveal we’ve spent less time actually leading our kids. How often do we stop and debrief what’s happening with a friend? How often do we have time to actually converse? How often do we have dinner together?

Good Questions to Ask Ourselves

It seems to be trust is the biggest issue, since parents and teens must work to cultivate it, especially in adolescence. So here are some questions to ask yourself as new technology and opportunities to make life efficient are introduced to us:

  1. Does it promote trust, or must we work harder at building trust between adult and child? Quite frankly, does it remove the need to trust?
  2. Does it foster open and honest conversation, or will it eventually remove our need to converse about certain topics interpersonally?
  3. How will it help us provide a balance of autonomy and responsibility to kids? Does it encourage responsible behavior in proportion to their independence?
  4. If we adopted this new technology, how will we need to adjust our lifestyles to insure we continue interpersonal communication?
  5. How could it actually be a mentoring tool to cultivate life skills?

Bottom line? If you buy a smart car… just make sure you still develop a smart kid.

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