I’ve just been exposed to several Uber Teen commercials and am appalled. Perhaps you’ve seen them too and felt a great unease at their portrayal of this new service. I’m sure some are cheering on the innovation, as many are constantly hypnotized by what’s novel, never considering the implications thereof. My concerns about this service which allows your teenager to use Uber all by themselves are many and great.
The first and most obvious concern is safety. Uber obviously has predicted this since it has implemented several protocols to try quelling objections, but I’m still not convinced. Among these is a unique PIN the teen has to give the driver before getting in the car. If you have a teen, you know they never forget to do important things like that and so absolutely wouldn’t climb in the wrong car, remember the PIN after, only then realizing they’re not in an Uber and have made a grave mistake.
Uber also has a RideCheck feature providing parents with real-time updates on the car’s progress, alerting to unexpected stops or the ride ending prematurely. If any of those things are detected, the app will message your child and you to see if help is needed. But here’s the thing: we know a lot can happen in just 30 seconds. What if a teen is being attacked? How quickly will help arrive? That’s a deeply disturbing thought.
Another innovation Uber has is the option to allow the Uber app to record all audio captured by the teen’s phone during the ride. It’s a nice gesture, but that recording can only be accessed by Uber. Think about it: your child is getting into a vehicle driven by a stranger and that person can say literally anything to your kid. The conversation might be benign, but it could also be incredibly harmful, and you’re dependent on Uber deciding if the matter should even be taken seriously enough for its employees to listen to the audio recording, let alone give you access to it? Just who is the parent?
While these safety concerns are reasons alone to consider never using this service, there’s even more significant long term damage Uber Teen could be doing to families. Some of the best one-on-one conversations with teens happen while driving with a parent. It’s a time to connect and understand one another. But the commercials for this product portray absurdly disconnected parents, almost celebrating the fact they can’t be bothered to drive their kids places.
Teens appreciate when parents personally help them, taking time out of their busy schedule to assist with what they need. Sending a stranger to pick them up from practice or take them out on a date Friday night sends a message that could echo into their adult years.
This new Uber Teen service could help parents tamp down their guilty conscience not only for not being there for their child but also for not teaching them how to drive. People keep complaining that the rising generation, first the Millennials years ago and now Gen Z, isn’t interested in driving. Well, provide your child with an on-call chauffeur service and you’ll all but guarantee that interest in driving diminishes if not disappears.
Learning to drive and care for a vehicle teaches teens responsibility. It also helps them feel more accomplished, boosting self-esteem and helping stave off crushing anxiety and depression, all big problems faced by adolescents today. By keeping them dependent on others for their transportation, even if it’s a service provided by strangers, their sense of accomplishment and their growth as young adults will be stunted.
There’s a crushing push to get parents to just hand over all sorts of entitlements to teens these days, from teen debit/credit cards to teenager Amazon accounts and more. Sometimes learning to do without and sacrificing teaches more than having an array of luxuries only a few taps on a phone screen away. It’s almost like companies are trying to make modern teens quasi trust fund kids who never learn to get out in the world and fight for their own slice of things.
Finally, as an Uber driver I would be concerned about picking up teen riders. Drivers can opt out of teen rider calls, but those who don’t for whatever reason could possibly face false accusations (see my review of The Art of Racing in the Rain for more on this). This is why having a camera pointed at the car’s interior is a wise idea. But the accusation could come months or years later – do you keep all the video recordings? Likely not.
While teen riders are supposed to go through a training on being safe and such, they could still get rowdy, trash a car, assault a driver, etc. It’s not just the children who are at risk when unaccompanied minors use a ride sharing service.
Obviously, Uber is striving to increase its market share by providing a new service. But this one is riddled with troubling pitfalls disconnected, workaholic parents or childless DINKs sitting in corporate boardrooms clearly don’t understand.
Images via YouTube