How did it happen so fast? How is your teenager already getting their learner’s permit, or ready to get their driver’s license. This is a scary, exciting time for parents. This is just an exciting time for teenagers.
As parents we worry about all the usual things: Is my teenager going to get into an accident? Do I need to be concerned that they will drive after drinking? Is my teenager going to get a ticket? What happens to my insurance when they start driving? What if they drive all their friends when they’re supposed to wait a year?
As a counselor who works with teenagers, I have seen parents handle driving in many different ways. The most common way I’ve seen parents handle teen drivers is to buy them a car without restrictions and then let them drive. The teenager may or may not be responsible for gas and insurance. There is really no discussion about responsibility and expectations. I don’t think this is a good way to go about something as important as driving a car, but it’s what the majority of parents do.
I’ve seen other parents lay out the ground rules ahead of time. There is a lot of discussion, with the teenager’s input, into how driving will be handled in the family. Some teens are told a few years in advance that they are responsible to pay for a portion of their car. They are encouraged to start working and saving. These teens tend to get less tickets, keep their car cleaner, and care more about the responsibility of driving in general because they put in a lot of hours at low pay to earn the right to drive. Other teens are told they can use the “third family car” as long as it is kept clean, grades stay up, they pay for gas and don’t get tickets or accidents. A third thing I’ve heard of, but never known parents to do, is require the teenager to put down a “deposit” with mom and dad for the amount of the insurance deductible in case of an accident. They get the money back when they are off mom and dad’s insurance plan. I actually really like this one, and am thinking of using it with my daughter when she starts driving.
The main point is that driving is a HUGE change in your teenager’s life. They gain a lot of independence and autonomy. It’s absolutely wonderful for the adolescents who are ready for it. It can be tragic for those who don’t respect that driving comes with a lot of responsibility and is potentially dangerous. Knowing your child as you do, think very carefully about how you want to deal with driving. Every teenager, and I mean EVERY teenager, has areas where they need some personal growth. Driving is an opportunity to encourage that growth. If your child is irresponsible with money you can use driving to teach them budgeting and wise spending. If your child is reckless with his or her belongings, you can use the car to teach them to take care of their things.
Driving is a wonderful opportunity for parenting. It’s a chance for your teenager to show you how responsible they’ve become. It’s nice for your teen to have independence, and it’s nice for you not to be driving all over the place. When handled with care, your teenager starting to drive can be great for the whole family.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT