Rabbi Ross – I have a question that many parents probably have. My irresponsible 16-year-old wants to take driver’s ed. I don’t think she should be having driving privileges until she is more responsible, or at least makes the effort. Thoughts? Sarah N.
Sarah, I must admit that you are correct. I have received many e-mails about this, and since my oldest is now 14, I, as well, am beginning to get nervous.
Let’s be honest here. It’s scary watching the child that you distinctly remember happily eating chalk, now driving a motor vehicle. We need to remember that we were also kids way back when, and somehow we managed.
That’s not to say it’s the same type of driving. My mother’s station wagon (my kids don’t know what that is), had a radio and tape. Nowadays, aside from the intricate electronics distracting drivers in every vehicle ,kids have their smart phones, which can cause more serious issues. The combination could be quite dangerous.
However, not allowing your children to take driving lessons is also very harsh. It’s one thing if you make them wait until they’re 17. It’s another to say “NO” without a time-frame. Driving is a huge milestone for teenagers, and it’s their road to independence (pun intended). Taking it from them will result in a lot of friction and can ultimately cause more harm than good.
Obviously, each situation is different, but we’re speaking in general terms. You say your daughter is irresponsible - were you that much better? You can tell her that you need to see an improvement in her behavior before you allow her to start taking lessons, that’s what parenting is about. Just remember to be fair. Don’t become overprotective and risk blowing it out of proportion.
I listed below some helpful ideas regarding this subject. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section – I’m sure many of you came up with some great solutions.
• Take your kids driving frequently, and let them drive (with one of their parents) once they have their permit. Sundays are usually the best days for a quiet, leisurely drive. Don’t be tense (at least outwardly).
• Be a good example when you drive. Don’t yell or gesticulate at other drivers, or do anything illegal.
• Have a phone box in the car. Whenever any of you drive, the phone goes in the box. Even at red lights.
• Explain to your kids that you’re not concerned as much about them making mistakes. It’s the less responsible drivers that you’re worried about. Explain what defensive driving is.
• They should not be allowed to have friends in the car with them for a while. Having friends in cars can cause some irresponsible decisions – especially when it comes to teenage boys. (“How fast can it go from zero to 60?!”)
• Put any drivers on your insurance immediately. It might be expensive, but leaving them off is a huge mistake and can cost you a lot more down the line.
• Buckling up is a must. It doesn't matter where they're sitting. Tell your children that if they are driving unbuckled, they will lose their privileges for a long time. No exceptions.
• Have a curfew for driving. As they mature, you can extend it. Remember, younger drivers get tired quicker and are less attentive. Night driving should be kept to a minimum initially.
• Music should be at a low volume as they learn to drive. Hearing other cars, sirens, or horns is imperative. Have you ever noticed that when you’re looking for an address, you lower the volume? Coincidence? I think not! Loud noise or music can be very distracting.
• While Bluetooth is safer than handheld, your kids should not be on the phone when they are learning to drive. It’s extremely distracting.
• Teach your kids how to change a flat, jump start a battery, and what to do if they are pulled over or in an accident. They don’t need to learn how to read a map anymore.
• This is my favorite. I believe that EVERY child should learn to drive on a stick shift. There are so many advantages. They can’t hold their phones since they need both hands. They need to concentrate on the shifting and won’t get distracted by others. Clutch cars are cheap (used). They also can't lend their cars to a friend. I’m very serious about this. Many driving schools will teach on a manual transmission, if you request it.
Have a good Shabbos and stay safe.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.