Digital Music Players can be a Dangerous Distraction

A tragedy occurred close to home last month when a 17-year-old boy was killed on the train tracks outside Statham, GA on Saturday, May 30. Joshua Gene Whitten was walking along the railroad tracks when a train, which was travelling the same way, struck and killed him. According to officials, the train operator braked as soon as he saw the boy, but Whitten did not move from the tracks. Officials say the operator is not at fault.

So if the train operator is not at fault, why would a 17-year-old boy fail to move off of railroad tracks when a train is bearing down?

Headphones.

According to officials, a MP3 player with headphones was found at the scene of the accident, leading them to believe that the boy failed to hear the train because of the music blaring through his earbuds. The problem of teens becoming distracted by electronic devices such as iPods, cell phones and digital video games is not a new one, but it is one that is getting more attention now that almost all teenagers own portable electronics of some kind.

Atlanta Northside Family & Parenting Examiner, Jackie Kass, pointed out that the train tragedy in Statham came just a month after a new study conducted on teens at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Children’s Hospital in Boston, reported that teenagers tend to engage in risky behavior when it comes to their digital players. For example, when teens were asked by parents to turn their digital music players down, they tended to hike the volume up instead. Interestingly, teens showed the same behavior even when asked by peers to turn the volume down.

Boys like Whitten were also found to be more likely to pump up the volume on their digital music players. Teenage boys have long been known for their love of loud music, but portable digital players pose a danger in that they lead to hearing loss more readily and that, as in the tragedy in Statham, they lead to dangerous situations where teens are unaware of their surroundings.

So why do teens continue to rock their earbuds when the results are potentially dangerous? It turns out that teenagers may be hardwired for risky behavior. According to a Temple University study, teens may know that their behaviors – loud music, driving while texting, drinking, smoking, and even drugs – are dangerous, yet they do it anyway simply because certain parts of their brain have not matured enough yet to make them realize the risk they may be taking.

The author of the study, Laurence Steinberg, PhD, said the findings of his study should not be read as if it is useless to continue educating teenagers on the dangers they may face, but he did suggest that giving them more structure instead of appealing to their still developing reason may be the best bet for ushering children thorough the teenage years.

Do you have a teenager who engages in risky behavior? Do you agree with Steinberg that structure is key or do you have another take on the situation? Leave your answer in the comments.