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Driver's License, Driving, and Use of the Family Car

  • At what age should a teenager get his driver's license?

  • When should she be allowed to use the car alone?

  • How frequently should my son drive?

    These are frequent questions and concerns of parents of teenagers. It is difficult to give a specific answer to these questions, because each child is different, and driving and use of the car must be considered on an individual basis. Other factors besides age must be considered in arriving at the decision of when a teenager should be allowed to drive.

    The major reasons parents are reluctant to let their adolescents drive center around two basic areas: immaturity and irresponsibility.

  • She still acts like a child. How can I allow her to drive a car?

  • His temper is so bad that I am afraid to allow him behind the wheel, because I don't know what would happen if he got angry while driving.

  • He does not do what he is supposed to in regard to his schoolwork, so I do not have any confidence that he will do what he is supposed to while driving.

  • Why should I let her have the privilege of driving when she does nothing around the house? I have to fight with her to get her to do the simplest thing, like picking up her clothes or cleaning up the kitchen after she eats.

In general, these parents are saying that the teenager shows behaviors that are more consistent with those of a younger child, or that the adolescent is not showing the level of responsibility she should show for her age.

Other Factors, Not Age, Determine a Readiness to Drive
Maturity and responsibility are not time-acquired behaviors; that is, a child does not become mature at 16, 18, or 21, nor does he acquire appropriate responsibility at a specific age. These behaviors are acquired through learning. If your child is not showing an appropriate level of maturity or responsibility for his age, he has not learned them.

Maturity
In general, maturity means behaving or possessing skills appropriate for one's age. There are five general areas of maturity.

  • Physical. This area pertains to the development of physical skills. A child might be ten years old, but show the fine-motor coordination of a seven-year-old. Therefore, he may have some problems writing or manipulating a pencil when it comes to performing at a fifth-grade level. Physical immaturity may also involve gross motor coordination or other physical attributes.

  • Academic. This refers to the development of skills that are necessary in the academic setting. A child may be in fifth grade, but reading on a third-grade level. A lack of academic maturity may also pertain to some intellectual deficits (e.g., a slow learner).

  • Social. This pertains to the development of age-appropriate skills required to interact with other children. A child may be 15, but his social development is similar to that of a ten-year-old.

  • Emotional. This pertains to emotional reactions to situations. A 13-year-old still has temper tantrums. The 12-year-old may whine when he does not get his way. The 13-year-old cries when faced with a problem. In general, their emotional reaction to situations is not consistent with their age, but more similar to that of a younger child.

  • Behavioral. This involves behavior factors such as responsibility, attention span, concentration. The child is 15, yet the parents still have to fight with him to do his homework.
The levels of maturity that usually relate to ability to function adequately behind the wheel of a car involve the last two areas: emotional and behavioral.

Responsibility
Responsibility generally means doing what you have to do because you have to do it, not because you want to do it. It involves duties, chores, and other tasks. On the part of the teenager, it may involve schoolwork, picking up after himself, taking care of his room, coming home on time, and many other similar behaviors.

Helping the Teenager Develop Appropriate Behavior
If you have a teenager whose emotional attitude and behavior are not at a level that would allow you to trust him and let him get a driver's license or use the car, there are several things that can be done to help build this trust.

Responsible or mature behaviors seen in one area may allow you to have more confidence in a child in a totally different area. For example, let's say you have two neighbors. One neighbor takes care of his house, cuts the grass, repairs things when broken, and generally shows a great deal of pride and concern for his house. Your other neighbor very seldom cuts the grass, leaves his house in disrepair, and has a lot of trash in his backyard. You have a car that you have a great deal of attachment to and value highly. Both of these people come to you and ask you to borrow this valued possession. Which neighbor would you trust with the car? Although neither one of these people has ever borrowed your car before, the behavior they show in other areas of their lives enables you to trust one more than the other.

Many times with teenagers you can use other areas in their lives to help you develop enough trust or confidence in them to allow them to get a license and drive.

More on: Teen Driving

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From Keys to Parenting Your Teenager by Don Fontenelle, Ph.D. Copyright 2000 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

Buy the book at Barron's.


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