The day in the life of a parent is frenetic.
Within 60 seconds, the following thoughts have crossed my mind: Those pants are 2 inches short, I guess she grew overnight! Maybe I can pick up new pants on my lunch break. Did I pack my lunch? I have to take the car in by 10 a.m. if I don’t want to risk getting pulled over for expired tags. Ouch, a Lego. I can hobble to the car, we’re late. Does that cough sound worse than yesterday? Does the doctor have evening hours today? Does she have her shoes on? Yes? Socks? Whatever. Let’s go.
Parents are constantly negotiating, analyzing risk, giving advice and warnings, loving and also trying to live in the moment with their children. According to the American Psychological Association, American parents and children are both experiencing high levels of stress that negatively impact our decision making as well as our overall health.
Moms and dads don’t want to put their children in danger, but stress, lack of sleep and busy schedules can lead to a crush of pressure that affects decision making. Here is a look at common mistakes and how to avoid them.
Car Seat Safety
American families spend lots of time in the car. To and from school, work, play practice and the swimming pool, we are an automobile-dependent society.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA), 75 percent of car seats are misused or installed incorrectly. That’s three out of four! However, these seats are only tested as installed per the owner’s manual, so any use other than the correct install is untested and unsafe.
Take the time to ensure your car seat is installed correctly. The car seat shouldn’t move any more than an inch in one direction along the seat belt path. The straps should begin at or below the shoulder if your kid is rear-facing and at or above the shoulders if they are forward-facing.
The top of the chest clip should be parallel with your child’s armpits and in the middle of the chest, and you should not be able to pinch any seat belt fabric between your fingers to ensure it is tight enough. If it’s winter, don’t buckle your child in with a puffy coat on, as that could add up to four inches to the harness, making it too loose to function properly in a crash.
This may seem like a lot to remember, but by practicing these steps they will become a habit in no time. If you don’t think you’ve installed your seat correctly, check with a certified car seat technician.
Driving While Impaired
You probably think it won’t happen to you. “There is no way I’d drive drunk, especially not with my kid in the car,” you say. However, it happens. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, in one year, more than 120 kids are killed in car accidents as occupants of the vehicle. This doesn’t count those who are killed as pedestrians or in other cars. Also, more than 1.1. million people were arrested for driving under the influence in 2014.
Perhaps you’re at a pizza party with other parents and kids and have one extra beer, or you didn’t realize you’d have to drive your child to a friend’s house after splitting a bottle of wine with your significant other at dinner.
Some of these parents are alcoholics, perhaps highly functional, who don’t recognize the risks or are in denial about just how much it impairs their judgement and decision-making ability.
Whether it’s the one extra drink or someone struggling with alcoholism, driving drunk turns your car into a killing machine. Be vigilant around alcohol or seek the help that you need for the sake of your children.
The explosion of smartphones and mobile devices has made parenting better in many ways. You can access homework assignments, FaceTime with Grandma, and contact parenting message boards full of advice.
In the car, however, these devices can lead to distracted driving. In 2014, 18 percent of injury-inducing crashes were caused by distracted driving. Even more mind-blowing, at any given moment in America, about 660,000 drivers are using electronic devices while the car is moving.
You may be tempted to find a video to distract your preschooler or text your spouse about dinner on the way home, but please resist the urge.
Distracted parents can also make the mistake of leaving their child in the car. It happens more than any of us would care to admit and, especially when we are out our regular routine, it could happen to anyone. Advocates for car safety recommend leaving something in the backseat like your purse or cellphone so you must check the back seat before leaving. If you leave your cellphone in the back seat, you won’t be able to text on it, so that provides a two-for-one benefit.
Being a parent is the most important job in society, so it’s no surprise it’s also the most stressful at times. Parents often say they would do anything to ensure their children are happy and healthy. However, the days are long, and in that tired, high-anxiety state, bad decisions can be made and mistakes can happen. By being mindful of car seat safety, impairment limits, and distracted driving, parents can keep their children out of danger.