Teen Safe Driver Program Coaches Better Drivers

Teen Driver Safety WeekWhen I hear families decide against using the Teen Safe Driver Program, I really wonder why. Maybe they think having a camera in the car sounds like Big Brother. From my experience with two boys, this program is worth every argument.

When I first heard about the Teen Safe Driver Program, I wasn’t sure about it, but my husband and son wanted to participate. My husband was convinced by data that shows teens who participate have far fewer accidents over the long term and are safer drivers. My son was convinced because he wanted a break on the insurance bill (he was going to pay for the increase in our insurance premium when he started driving).

Once installed, we sat down every week with our son and reviewed his “incidents.”  At first, he whined, “The camera was too sensitive,” or, “I didn’t do anything wrong.”  Then his competitive streak kicked in. He wanted to reduce his incidents and be better than his peers. With regular coaching, he quickly learned to drive more smoothly. 

He had been driving for about three months when we got the call every parent dreads, “Mom, I’ve had an accident.” I freaked out, but I knew in my heart that my son was a safe driver. (The next morning, Teen Safe Driver folks even called to make sure our son was okay!) He had a ticket and the car was totaled, but he wasn’t hurt. From the tape, we could see that he had his seat belt on, there weren’t other teens in the car, the music wasn’t loud, and he was travelling at the speed limit when the car in front of him suddenly stopped. He was following a little too closely and couldn’t stop in time.

We’re now doing the program with our second son. Like his older brother, he complained the first few weeks and even swore at the camera (yes, you get to hear that, too). When he spun out on an icy road, we got to see all the things he did correctly and thank our stars that he was wearing his seatbelt. We had good conversations about what happened and complimented him on remaining calm and using what he had learned in driving school.

For our family, the camera is a window not a spy, the comments are supportive not judgmental, and the program provokes good, quality conversations, not fights.

Over winter break, my older son drove the car with the camera in it. After a month, he said, “Having the camera was really a good reminder. I’ve gotten safer.” Time to bite your lip and say, “That’s great, honey.”

Editor's note: Molly Wingate is a parenting coach and the author of Slow Parenting Teens, a radical parenting model for building positive, respectful and fun relationships with teens. Learn more at www.slowparentingteens.com

Teen Safe Driver Program is Mom’s Way of Saying, 'I Love You'

Teen Safe Driver camera installedI love the Teen Safe Driver program. It’s such a valuable teaching tool, I think it should be offered by every insurance carrier.

Last July, my 16 year old son, Tyler, got his driver’s license and we had made arrangements in advance to participate in the Teen Safe Driver program. Was Tyler happy to have the camera in his car? No.

Had I explained that no camera equaled no keys? Yes.

I knew Tyler drove safely when I was next to him, but how would he drive when I wasn’t there? Would he be giving rides to friends before he was allowed? Would he remember to wear his seatbelt? Would he use his cell phone or be texting while driving? Having the camera in the car let me know what was going on and gave me some peace of mind.

At first, I checked the Teen Safe Driver website almost daily. If there was something I thought was important for Tyler to see, I showed it to him and we talked about what needed to change. I reminded him of things like, “You still tend to corner to fast, slow it down.” 

Or, (true story) “Hey, you can’t allow _____  to jump on the hood of your car when you’re parking!”  I even got a video pointing out that Tyler had made a well-executed U-turn, but it happened to be at a double yellow line. Without Teen Safe Driver, how would I know these things?

The Teen Safe Driver program doesn’t just point out mistakes – it’s also cause for positive feedback. “Tyler, I got a video today pointing out that you have never once been caught without a seatbelt. Great job!”

Tyler and his brother are the most important people in my life, and I would do absolutely ANYTHING to keep them safe. Having the camera in his car comes with the privilege of driving, and I believe it can be the difference between life or death.

I’m not being dramatic.  You see, my sister died driving her car before she turned 21. A system like this could have saved her life.

Is the camera intrusive? I don’t think so. It only comes on when he does something to trigger it, which gives immediate feedback. When the red light comes on, and he notices, I can tell by the look on his face he knows he was just “caught” making a mistake.

I think of it this way. It’s as though I’m whispering in his ear, “Hey. That was wrong. Next time, you’ll get it right. By the way, I love you.” 

Teen Safe Driver logoEditor's note: In observance of National Teen Driver Safety Week (Oct. 20-26), American Family encourages all motorists to commit themselves to safe driving practices. A great starting point is our online Safe Driving Pledge, where you agree to follow six commonsense practices that will help protect you, your passengers and those with whom you share the road.

(Even if you took the pledge before, renew your commitment to safe driving today. It's the first stop on the road to making a real and lasting difference.) And just for participating, we'll enter you in a drawing for one of 10 $250 gift cards.

A Dinner Together in the Life of a Large Family

Silverware for a large familyIt’s a typical night, and our oldest has football practice. Sooner or later my husband will get the SOS text, at the most inopportune time, mind you. Our next in line has cross country until 5:30, and our youngest daughter is anxiously waiting her turn to go to volleyball practice at 6:30. 

The other three are busy working on their homework ... kind of.  Jack’s barks springs my heart out of my chest as the doorbell rings. It’s the cross country girl. She’s home, but wants to know if she can go to the home volleyball game to watch her friends.

Yet another hurdle to jump, and still have dinner together. 

Luckily, I planned a meal with ingredients easily prepared and set aside for later. Tacos, whether they’re turkey, chicken or beef, are a regular in our house. Miraculously, all six children like them and they’re generally a healthy choice. 

The clock strikes 6:00, and I call the three boys up to help their sister set the table for eight. If they can get the table set, my husband can pick up the football player, and we might get to sit down. We’ll take 15 minutes to devour our tacos and share the day’s stories. Hopefully we have enough milk to go around…

Having a large family has its challenges when it comes to eating dinner together, but when made a priority, it’s one of the best parts of my day. Stories, jokes and laughs are sure to be shared. Never mind the spilled milk or a fight over the last roll.

If I didn’t have this time of day with my family, I might not even hear a word about school from any of the boys, the socialites that they are. With three teenagers in the same high school now, you can imagine the light-hearted and fun comradare at our dinner table. 

But truth be told, these meals don’t just happen. With a large family and crazy schedules, we have to have a plan, and make sure we have all of the ingredients to pull it off. My husband and I both work all day, so running to the grocery store isn’t an option, especially when dinner needs to be on the table before the next drop-off. 

About a year ago, I had each child jot down five of their favorite meals we commonly have. Between all six kids I expected at least 15 different meals, but of course it wasn’t that easy. It turns out they all have similar tastes, so we narrowed it down to eight favorite meals. 

I use those as go-to meals, but try to add in new recipes I find on Pinterest throughout the week as well. On Sundays, we head to the grocery store and stand in line with every other person, it seems, and unload our overflowing cart with that weeks’ nightly meals.  After juggling everyone’s busy schedules, we agree on each night’s menu.

And the process repeats itself. How do you meal plan? Leave a comment below!

Back to the Family Dinner TableEditor's note: American Family Insurance is partnering with Familyfoodie.com in support of bringing families back together at the dinner table. Join the movement with us, and capture your next family dinner by submitting your meal recipe for a chance to win one of six $100 William Sonoma gift cards, or the $500 grand prize.

My favorite meals

What's your favorite meal-time memory?We all have favorite songs, books, movies, sports teams – you name it.But have you ever thought about your favorite meals of all time?

If I had to boil them down (pun intended), there are a few eating experiences that stand out.

One of them involved the first Thanksgiving my wife and I celebrated together, after we moved from Milwaukee, Wis. to Washington, D.C. to achieve our career dreams. In the beginning, we were cash-strapped. Dinner often consisted of rice mixed with peanut butter, and among the few furnishings in our simple apartment was a “couch” we fashioned out of an army blanket and bundled newspapers.

Clearly, traveling back to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving was not in the budget.

Instead, we gathered for a holiday feast in D.C. with friends, acquaintances and co-workers. Like the original pilgrims, we all were far from “home,” and each of us contributed what little we had to the Thanksgiving table. The food was delicious, but the sharing of stories, laughter and togetherness was far more satisfying, proving that home truly is where the heart is.

Another favorite food experience involved a week of dinners prepared by our son and daughter when they were in middle school. Some meals were ambitious, while others – scrambled eggs, for example – were somewhat unconventional. But our kids took responsibility, created a plan of action and executed it. Since then, they’ve made some great dishes and treats. My son’s panko-crusted tilapia and my daughter’s smoothies are to die for.

And finally, there was the amazing backyard crab feast in Maryland that changed me forever. I’d never eaten soft-shell crabs before, and it was love at first bite. After two bushels, I forced myself to stop. I also experienced other “firsts,” like learning how to dance the “Electric Slide” to Marcia Griffiths’ irresistible “Electric Boogie” in the 95-degree heat. Whenever I hear that song, my mind is flooded with memories of friends, food and fun on that sweltering summer day.

The more I think about my favorite food experiences, the more I’m convinced that food itself isn’t the only thing that sustains us.

It’s the act of sharing and enjoying food with others that truly feeds our souls, and makes us feel connected, loved and alive.

Back to the Family Dinner TableEditor’s note: Celebrate your favorite meals by submitting your favorite recipe for our e-cookbook. American Family is partnering with FamilyFoodie.com to bring these meals -- and memories -- together. Enter here by Oct. 19, 2013, for a chance to be featured in the cookbook. You will also be entered to win one of six $100 Williams-Sonoma gift cards, including one valued at $500! When the e-cookbook comes out later this fall, you’ll be among the first to receive a copy.

We are the ones we have been waiting for

Beth ChurchillThis affirming and joyful statement resonates with me.

This period in my life has been a time of great change and even greater reflection. As a result, I have been thinking a lot about this statement.

As many know, I lost my sister three months ago after her four-year journey with brain cancer. This experience has left me feeling raw and vulnerable. But as many of you who've faced similar, dramatic life changes know, vulnerability creates openings for learning and growth.

What can we learn from a life well-lived? What do we carry with us?

My sister was an educator in Sun Prairie for her entire career. She taught children to learn. Perhaps more amazing than helping children grow, she built community. She understood that helping children learn and prepare for future successes does not happen in isolation.

The saying “it takes a village” affirms the notion that we are all interconnected, never truly independent, and we all benefit when the relations where we exist are engaging, healthy and in balance. That interdependency, that interconnectedness was primary to Carol's life, and —maybe it's genetic — it drives my engagement at work and in my community.

Having worked my entire career in one way or another in the areas of sustainable strategy, sustainable development, landscape architecture and resource conservation management, I have had the incredible opportunity to live out my passions through my career.  

Not all of us are so lucky.

According to a 2013 Gallup poll, less than 30 percent of Americans are engaged in their jobs. I am humbled that my entire career path has been from one of engagement.

At an early age I knew I wanted to grow up to serve in “a purpose-driven life”. It all started with the Iron Eyes Cody commercial, the 1970 Keep America Beautiful public service announcement with the crying chief shedding a tear after seeing trash thrown from a car window. Every time I experienced his tear, I shed one, as well.

I was 9 years old. I felt our interconnection with nature so viscerally, and it's one of the reasons I am passionate about my role as sustainability specialist for American Family and my role as a sustainability strategist out in the community. Passion, purpose and a lot of self-determination have served me well during my 30-year career.

All of us have had the opportunity to witness the growth of information and evidence surrounding the environment. But it's not simply the information about the environmental challenges facing our planet that is most obvious to me. Rather, it is the interdependency of all aspects of our biosphere, from animals to plants to humans to local ecosystems to the global climate.

Change the balance of some plant life and that has impacts on animals, trickling to humans, the ecosystem and beyond. Change the balance of a social structure and it has the same impact. The loss of clean water directly impacts regional, national, and global health. Changes in ocean temperature influence weather patterns globally. While none of this information is new, what is becoming more obvious is the interconnectedness of all these pieces.

For me, my focus is to work hard on the changes I can make as an engaged person, family member, professional, community member and world citizen. I have always invested a good portion of my time volunteering in the community. I am also working on developing more mentoring opportunities. Ways to learn from others. Ways to collaborate. Ways to help others. I meet with a new person in the American Family community every month. I meet with a person in the regional community every month as well. I treasure every opportunity.

Keeping our connections engaged, healthy and in balance is often easier said than done, whether professionally, interpersonally or environmentally. It is, however, a challenge we all face and one that we all face together.

None of us are free-floating and independent islands. We are fundamentally interdependent on each other, our community, and our planet. The lesson is the same: we are in this together. Each and every one of us represents an aspect of the change we want to see in the world.

We are the ones we have been waiting for – there is no other way.

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