Is Our 16-Year-Old Mature Enough to Drive?

Our son is approaching 16 and is eager to get his driver's license. How can we expect him to be ready to drive when he can't even manage to keep up with his current responsibilities?

Question:

This is the ultimate question and test of the teenager-parent relationship.

  • As parents you need to decide what level of responsibility you need to see from your son to support his getting a driver's license -- whether it is grades, behavior, chores around home, outside job, or some combination of the preceding. Once you and your spouse agree on the level of responsibility you need to translate this into specifics -- honor roll, working ten hours a week at a job, or whatever you decide -- and then share this with your son. He needs to know these expectations. This is the structure he needs to organize his efforts.
  • Next, after deciding for yourselves, negotiate the process for your son getting his license with him. (Remember, you are in the driver's seat here -- no pun intended -- but once the three of you agree on the process you cannot suddenly change it.) This is where you talk about driving school, hours driven with parents (and which one of you will do the supervised driving), insurance payments, and agreements about car use and maintenance. If it is an issue, you also want to include money in this discussion. Who pays for the increased insurance? Driving school? Car maintenance? Obviously the earlier this conversation takes place the better. Your son will need time to accrue the necessary savings, and it is not fair to use this financial requirement as a way to delay the inevitable by springing it on him at the last minute.
  • Following the principle of natural consequences, revoking driving privileges should occur when the broken agreement involves the car, or when the infraction was so irresponsible as to call to question his real level of responsibility. Also, whenever you revoke the privilege, be clear about what is needed to earn it back.
  • A general comment. As the parent of a teenager you need to get proficient at making sure your teen does not seduce/manipulate you into being responsible for his problems. Here I am referring to driving school. Yes, driving school is expensive, but if that is your requirement then it is your requirement. Supportively, let your son solve the when, where, and how much of this requirement.

Finally, driving is a huge responsibility. As parents, be clear about this, and then develop a process that does not leave you feeling bitter and fooled by society for putting you in the position of having to support your 16-year-old getting his license. Let your teenager know this. Here, part of your teenager's responsibility is to take care of you as parents. That is, through their actions and responsibility you feel like a good parent by allowing your teenager to get his license.

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