I often get asked to provide input for articles that have to do with the topic of driving and what parents can do to keep their teenager safe. It struck me this last time I was being interviewed that my advice for parents contains two basic components: 1- talk to your teenager, be in dialogue with them about any topic that you are concerned about or think they need to be advised on. 2 – Create boundaries, have rules and consequences for breaking the rules, and be prepared to enforce the rules when necessary. That is our role as parents, it really isn’t up to a teenager to tell you what is good for them or what they will or will not do, particularly when it comes to driving.
The teenage brain continues to develop well into their 20’s. The frontal lobe where judgement and decision making is formed is still “under construction” during their teen years so they really are not in a position to be making the type of decisions about what they do or don’t need in order to develop the necessary skills. Remember parents, when it comes to driving your kids are novices, they will be novice drivers for years, and it is up to you to be the voice of reason and to set appropriate requirements and boundaries for them.
The biggest mistake I see parents make is to allow their teenager to control the process. That is why being in conversation is so important. Open the dialogue before they are even eligible for their permit. Begin to talk about the responsibility of driving and that it is a privilege that must be earned through the State and more importantly through you. Let them know there will be requirements, possibly training they must complete and the number of practice hours they will have to log before you will allow them to get their license. Of course the State has requirements, but in the case of Arizona in particular, those requirements are not nearly enough. The question you need to ask yourself is: “Do I want my child to be a safe and responsible young driver or are minimum standards and just passing the test at the MVD good enough?” The two are very different objectives.
If you are allowing your teen to push you into a decision then it is likely it is more about being easier and convenient for you. Dealing with a stubborn teenager that doesn’t think they need something is no picnic, but in the end, you need to be honest with yourself and take responsibility for that decision.
This is one of those last life skills that we impart to our children before they begin to experience young adulthood. This isn’t a one time conversation, it is not a box you check and move on, it is a process, a process you must participate in. If you do not, the consequences can be significant. Nationally over 50% of newly licensed teenagers will have some incident within their first year of driving. If it is a ticket, your insurance rates will go up. If it is a collision they can walk away from, then you’ve got significant costs involved including payment of deductible and higher insurance rates. If it is a fatality or a life altering injury – then your life will be forever changed. How much risk are you willing to take with your child’s life?