Carol B. Hillman, author and educator, once famously wrote, “One of the most important things we adults can do for young children is to model the kind of person we would like them to be.”

I recently had an opportunity to spend the day with 32 young children — fourth graders, to be exact — in a grade school setting. All were inquisitive, smart, observant, impressionable, respectful of adult authority, eager to please and generally honest.

By contrast, I also recently spent the day with a classroom full of fifth graders. Something happens in the summer between fourth and fifth grade … between 9 and 10 years old. The level of cooperation and participation, of the young person’s perception of the value of adult authority and its validity, is compromised. 

While I was growing up my father repeatedly said, “Do as I say, not as I do.” This parental directive fell on deaf ears. I think what happens in that summer between 9 and 10 is a combination of brain development and disillusionment — a kind of awakening were the young child learns to think more for his or her self and begins to see and understand the difference between what adults say and what they do.

In short, they call “bullshit” on adulthood. But, as Cat Stevens once sang, “…nevertheless, [they’re] locked toward the future.” 

There is so much more I could say about childhood development, about duplicity in adulthood, about cultural norms and social learning. But, other than having once been a child, observing children and adults, and studying sociology, cultural anthropology, philosophy and interpersonal communication, I’m no expert.

And besides, this is all just the lead-in to my story. To what I hope will be a well received inquiry into the modeling behaviors of adults and a brighter future for us all. Please indulge me as I begin my story in the middle of my article.

I recently had the opportunity to spend the day with 32 young children in a classroom setting – fourth graders to be exact. Inquisitive, smart, observant, impressionable, respectful of adult authority, eager to please, and generally honest.

At the end of the day, I asked them to sit quietly and pay attention to me. I then asked them to answer, by a show of hands, the following question: Have you ever been riding in a car when the driver was texting?

32 hands went up in unison. 

I spent one day with these kids and concluded that they were all adorable. How much more must all their families’ adore these children? Want the best for them? Wish to protect them and keep them safe? Teach them right from wrong? Make them brush their teeth and eat their vegetables? 

Yet, 32 hands went up in unison. I was appalled. It shook me to my transportation safety, alo-mothering, ever-lovin’ soul. I asked some friends about it. I told them the story and asked them how many hands they thought went up in answer to the question. Most of my friends correctly guessed “all of them.” 

This further appalled me; the dreadful truth that everybody knows. Texting while driving is dangerous and illegal, yet we are modeling this behavior for our children to emulate. If that were not awful enough, many parents and other adult caretakers are putting the children under their tutelage and care in mortal peril.

32 hands went up in unison.

This is clearly not representative of statistically relevant scientific inquiry. It is anecdotal and observational and opinion rather than fact. I am claiming no less. It would be ludicrous to suggest that 100 percent of children have been riding in a car with a distracted, texting adult behind the wheel.

It would be ridiculous to assume, based on one question posed in one classroom, that all children are placed in mortal danger by the role models of their future (should they survive to have one). But, as a matter of opinion (mine), I am going to claim just that and call “bullshit” on all of us.

Even if you personally do not text and drive, we as a society are teaching dangerous lessons to the next generation. Even if you personally do not drive distracted, the numbers of your fellow citizens and motorists who do so put our nation’s trust of youth in mortal peril every day.

32 hands went up in unison. This is something we all need to think about.