Role of Parents in Changing Seat Belt Usage Behavior in Teens

Automobile accidents among teenagers have been steadily increasing over the past couple of years, and this can be attributed to changing behavior in teens (Reisner, Van Wagenen, Gordon & Calzo, 2014).

According to statistics gathered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about half of all teenagers that died from car crashes in 2013 did not have their seatbelts on.

If this trend continues, there will be more the number of deaths will increase exponentially over the next few years (Bingham, Simons-Morton, Pradhan, Almani, Falk, & Albert, 2016). These numbers have raised concern of not only safety practitioners and organizations but also from families.

The access to information has allowed parents to play a critical role in instilling car safety habits in their adolescent children. However, it has not been parents claim that no matter how hard they try to change safety habits, their efforts are ineffective.

While some factors may lead to such situations, parents need to be flexible in their approaches because they are dealing with a different generation (Lee et al., 186).

Importance of Early Interventionimportance of Early Intervention

It is important that teenagers learn the benefits of using safety belts whenever they are using public or private transportation means from the parents (Shults, Haegerich, Bhat, & Zhang, 2016). However, it is critical to point out that it is not an easy task to encourage behavior change without prior experience.

Most parents today did not receive such information in their teen years from their parents. Despite this, adolescents need to be made aware that the decisions they make today with regards to car safety may affect their physical and psychological health in the future.

Additionally, they will be able to pass the message to their children thereby ensuring the growth of awareness of the benefits of using seat belts.

Despite the difficulties parents encounter today in encouraging teens to fasten seatbelts whenever they are in a car, there are approaches they can use to have the teenagers to change their habits.

Encouraging Teens to Use Seat Belts under the Social Ecological Model

Understanding Teenagers’ Environment

The first step towards encouraging adolescents to change their perception about safety belts is to understand where their reasoning and position. Unlike decades ago, teens today have access to plenty of technological gadgets which are significant to how they behave.

It is therefore essential that parents understand the social and ecological environment of their teen children before choosing an approach. This importance is best supported by the Social and Ecological Model which demonstrates that successful eating behavior change can only be achieved if changes are introduced and implemented at various levels of the Social-Ecological Model (Simplican, Leader, Kosciulek & Leahy, 2015).

According to this theory, behavior is affected by existing dynamic interrelations among personal and environmental factors. To understand teens’ behaviors today, parents need to take into account the adolescent’s entire ecological system in which they grow in.

As a normal developmental trait, teens create unique environments in which they live in, and it is these environments that shape their behaviors, including perceptions of automobile safety. These environments include individual, microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, and macrosystem (Davis, Campbell, Hildon, Hobbs, & Michie, 2015).

Since every single one of these socially organized subsystems is unique, behavior development will depend on the contextual nature of individual adolescent life. Moreover, behavior influences do not act within the subsystems only; they have a multi-directional impact.

This is good information to parents because they need to understand that the difficulties they face in their quest to change the negative car-safety habits of their teens are not of their making. Moreover, it takes the effort of the entire social system teens grow up in. There is only so many parents can do to help their teens make wear their seatbelts.

This does not mean that parents should stop if they do not see changes. They should ensure that behavior influences from other subsystems have little impact on behavior. For instance, instead of parents showing their children the importance of using the seatbelts in their private cars, they should introduce the concept slowly rather than abruptly. Promising to use the seatbelt every time they go out will, over time, lead to the understanding of the importance of such behavior.

The parents also realize that they do not have control over some of the influences in external subsystems that discourage use of safety belts, especially the case if one considers the fact that some of these influences have bi-directional impacts (Altman, 2017).

If a parent insists that their teen child must use the seatbelt whenever they are in the family car, the decision on whether to use the same on a public transportation depends on the child. Their parents, therefore, do not have control over whether the child will use the seatbelt while on the school bus or not.

The key to parents succeeding in their role as behavior change influencers is to start introducing and implementing changes within the microsystem. Family, school, and friends constitute the microsystem, in which parents are an integral part.

For example, the final decision on the choice of school is usually the parent’s despite the fact that today, it is a discussion between parents and children.

If the school a parent chooses does not have robust policies outlining the importance of using safety belts, the children will not develop a strong attitude towards safety belt usage.

In addition, teenagers spend about 70% of their day in school and it becomes clear why it would matter less if parents insist that teenagers should use the seatbelts.

This is an excellent example of how bi-directional influences work in influencing behavior affecting teens’ decisions. Controlling influences within a subsystem is, therefore, the best place to start when changing teenagers’ car safety decisions.

Changing Car Safety Behavior in Teens under the Attribution Theory

As mentioned previously, parents only have direct control over the influences found within the individual, the microsystem and to a small percentage – the mesosystem. Influences in the exosystem and macrosystem are however outside the control of parents.

For instance, parents cannot control the type of car safety information shared among peers via mass media platforms such as social media platforms. In spite of this, parents can control the level and type of exposure teens are subjected to within their subsystems.

However, this is only possible if parents understand the behavior of teenagers in the context of the exosystem and macrosystem environments. It will help the parents to know why teenagers adopt varying attitudes towards car safety behaviors.

According to the attribution theory, ordinary people tend to find explanations for events using the information they gather (Kok, Den Boer,Vries, Gerards, & Mudde, 2014).

Since the interpretation of these events makes people act in a certain way, parents should not be surprised that reluctance to use seatbelts among teens can be impacted by these events. For example, most teens are emotional, and events that affect these emotions can trigger change habits.

If a teen is teased on their social media account of being a coward since they used a seatbelt, it is more than likely that the attack will affect their attitude towards their choice of using this safety device. If such teasing is sustained, the teen will with time loathe the act of using safety belts, in most cases, will stop it at all.

For an attribute to meet the cause and effect threshold, it must fulfill three factors: i) the perception or observation of behavior ii) belief that the behavior was intentional, iii) determination as to whether the other party was coerced into performing the behavior (Shaver 100). In this case, a parent should be able to observe the teen’s use of safety belt concluding that an intervention is necessary.

The reason in some cases, the teen may genuinely forget to buckle their seatbelts. Such observation provides a trend with which parents can work with. If the parent notices that their child continuously ignores using the safety belts, they will have a better opportunity to explain the relationship between attitude and behavior.

Once parents notice the difference in the safety belt use habit of their teenage child, they will have to determine whether such behavior is intentional or not. If the behavior is intended, then the likelihood of changing is high, especially due to low stability (Spitzberg & Manusov, 2014).

The adolescents are consciously aware when they choose not to use the seatbelt resulting from other attitudes towards them. On the other hand, if the behavior is unintentional, it will be difficult for the efforts of the parents to have a meaningful impact when trying to cause the teen to develop a positive attitude towards the use of safety belts.

The reason is when teenagers periodically engage in a behavior, it can be difficult for them to understand that changing emotions are the root cause of behavior change. For such teens, it can be difficult to alter the behaviors because they do not seem to understand why they need transformation.


Dealing with car safety habits in teens today there is a need for different and updated approaches. The reason is that the changes in the social and ecological fabric over the years have become apparent and as such, it is not enough for parents to solely focus on the individual and microsystem environment of their children.

To achieve a complete and total behavior change in teens today, parents need to play a role in controlling behavior influences in the outer subsystems. These efforts will produce a butterfly effect and consequently lead to increased chances of change in stubborn safety-related eating habits in adolescent children.

However, to find out if their efforts will be worth it, parents need to study teens’ behaviors over time. This helps them recognize any changes to car safety habits immediately and attribute the appropriate cause to the change based on the teen’s baseline behavior.



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Reisner, S. L., Van Wagenen, A., Gordon, A., & Calzo, J. P. (2014). Disparities in safety belt use by sexual orientation identity among US high school students. American Journal of Public Health, 104(2), 311-318.

Shaver, K. G. (2016). An introduction to attribution processes. London: Routledge.

Shults, R. A., Haegerich, T. M., Bhat, G., & Zhang, X. (2016). Teens and seat belt use: What makes them click? Journal of Safety Research, 57, 19-25.

Simplican, S. C., Leader, G., Kosciulek, J., & Leahy, M. (2015). Defining social inclusion of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities: An ecological model of social networks and community participation. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 38, 18-29.

Spitzberg, B. H., & Manusov, V. (2014). Attribution theory. Engaging Theories in Interpersonal Communication: Multiple Perspectives, 37.

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