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AT&T launches mobile safety site for families

Mike Blake / Reuters file

In a recent survey of 1,000 parents, 89 percent said they are concerned about their children being in a car with someone who is texting and driving.

It's difficult for many parents to talk with their kids about sex. But what about the "don't ride in a car with a driver who's texting" chat? It's time for that discussion if you haven't had it yet: 53 percent of children ages 8 to 17 say they've been exactly in that situation, according to a new survey.

"You talk to your kids about stranger danger, the birds and bees, and this is another talk you need to have with them," says Dr. Jim Sears, the pediatrician also known for his role on the syndicated TV show, "The Doctors." Sears is working with AT&T to promote the wireless carrier's new website dedicated to family issues around mobile safety.

And there are issues. AT&T commissioned Gfk Roper Public Affairs to survey 1,000 parents and 500 children ages 8 to 17 in April about cell phones and safety. The findings were telling:

  • 89 percent of parents said they are concerned about their children being in a vehicle with someone who is texting and driving. The worry is with good reason, with more than half of the children saying they've been in that situation.
  • 77 percent of parents say they worry about their child receiving calls from an unknown number; 69 percent of children say they have answered unknown calls.
  • 69 percent of parents are concerned about their child sending or receiving sexually suggestive messages or images; 46 percent of children ages 11 to 17 said they have a friend who has received such a message or photo.
  • 67 percent of parents are concerned about their children sending or receiving mean or bullying text messages; 22 percent of children said they have been bullied by text message by another child.

The parental concerns are good, but action is better; 38 percent of the children said their parents have not talked to them about staying safe and secure when using a cellphone.

Parents "may assume their kids just know these things," said Sears, in an interview with msnbc.com. "It just doesn't occur to them to have this talk until there's a problem."

When it comes to riding in a car with a driver who is texting, children should be taught that it's as unacceptable as not wearing a seat belt, Sears said. While younger passengers may be less afraid to speak out, teens facing peer pressure should practice with their parents what to say to the driver. Suggestions can include offering to be the "designated texter," holding the driver's phone and sending text messages if needed.

"When you're in the car with your child, pretend you're driving, grab your phone and start texting, and have your kids practice saying something to you," Sears said. "If you practice something like that, you're much more likely to say something when it happens in real life."

Janiece Evans-Page, AT&T's assistant vice president, community engagement, said that the carrier partnered with Common Sense Media to put together information for the new site.

It includes "guidance on when a child is ready for their first phone, teaching kids mobile phone responsibility and the lasting effects of what we do online," she said in an email statement. "The site also includes information on free to low-cost AT&T tools that can help curb the urge to text while driving, block what content may be accessed, limit times of day phones can be used and offer options for blocking texts and calls from bullies."

So yes, while AT&T does have programs it wants to push, there's also a lot of good information that won't cost you a dime, and may help give you fodder for that very important talk. The carrier made a compelling documentary two years ago, called "The Last Text," about people whose lives were tragically altered by texting and driving.

Children do learn by example, and Sears says the best example you can give them is to not text and drive yourself. "If you do, then they're gonna do it, too," he said. He makes it a practice, he said, to hand his phone over to his children when he drives so they can hang onto it — and he can hang onto the wheel.

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