Long before we had teenagers, my husband and I reached a momentous, counter-cultural decision: our kids were not going to be anxiously waiting in line at the DMV to get their licenses on their 16th birthdays. Our kids were not going to be allowed to get their licenses until they were legal adults.
Here’s the part where I am supposed to laugh at my folly and tell you how we gave in and changed our minds, right? But we didn’t. People laughed at us. Everyone said we would change our minds when the time came, when we were tired of playing chauffeur to three teenagers. For us, though, our kids’ safety trumps our convenience. Why it doesn’t for everyone is a mystery to me.
Here are some facts. Take a minute to read the article, especially if you haven’t already let your kids get their licenses. Along with the grim statistics about 16 year olds and car crashes is the science behind them: it’s not inexperience, it’s immaturity that leads to these accidents. New 17 year old drivers have fewer accidents than new 16 year old drivers.
Did you know that one in five 16 year old drivers will have a reportable accident in the first year of driving? Did you know that car accidents are the highest cause of fatalities for teens? My own mother disapproves of our decision to deny our teenagers driving privileges. Yet she has often criticized other parenting decisions we have made based upon her fear of stranger abduction. Statistics suggest that there is a one in 347,000 chance of a given child being abducted by a stranger. The very unlikelihood of this is what makes it news. I know many parents who followed their children around everywhere, allowing them little if any freedom, for fear of stranger abduction, who have now blithely handed their kids the keys to the car, which is provably far, far more dangerous to them. Read this. Why are people so reluctant to protect their children from this very real danger?
Yes, your kids will throw a fit if you don’t let them drive. Did that stop you from setting limits on them when they were younger? Did you let them play with matches, or cross the street when they were small, or go into the homes of strangers? Do you let them drink alcohol and stay out all night and go to parties without making sure parents are there? If you are a good parent you didn’t and don’t and if your kids fussed about it, too bad.
No, this isn’t really about the kids. It’s about the parents. Parents who are tired of driving everywhere and want a break, who just can’t wait until their newly-minted drivers can take on the carpooling responsibilities, can bring themselves home from the football game, can run out to the store themselves when they need last minute items for school. How many times have I heard parents say, “I cannot wait until he can drive!”
Remember, we have five kids. That’s a lot of driving. I drove out to KCHS this evening a little before 9:00 to pick up my teenagers, who were involved in Spirit Week events, and for one reason and another did not get home until after 10:00. There have been days when I have made six round trips due to varying after school schedules. Truly my life would be easier if the boys could drive themselves or regularly accept rides from other teens. John and I moan and groan about this a little bit from time to time but both of us have made a commitment to see to it that the kids don’t suffer unduly from the non-driving policy and that they get to go anywhere they need to.
My kids’ friends might think I’m mean and certainly they think I am crazy, and that’s to be expected. I don’t make my parenting decisions based on what people think, thankfully. But I have to admit I was irked by a comment made to my son by an adult the other day. She laughed when he said I wouldn’t let him get his license and said I wanted to keep him “my baby boy.”
I’m not a “helicopter parent,” you know. Emily went to Europe at 14 with People to People. Teddy went to NYLC for two weeks at the age of ten. My boys were allowed to walk to Walgreens and Pilot and the library in our urban neighborhood, and to stay alone at home as soon as they felt comfortable doing so. We don’t supervise their homework or try to step in and solve all their problems for them. We want them to go away to college and not live at home. Our philosophy has always been to give them as much independence as possible.
No, I don’t want to keep Jake my little baby. I just want to keep him alive.
UPDATE: Emily didn’t get her license until after college! Jake got his at 18. Teddy, due to unforeseen circumstances, got his at not quite 17. William is about to turn 16 and has shown zero interest in learning to drive. We have no regrets even though we had to drive our kids around a lot.