Quite a few dads suggested this topic to us: “How do you know when to hand over the car keys?”
Parents go through some gut-wrenching moments during their “tour of duty” as caretakers, protectors and defenders of their children. We certainly did. We anguish over some tough decisions as parents because what we think is best for our teenager is often directly in opposition to what he or she thinks is appropriate and even deserved. By nature dads have a difficult time letting go, giving up some measure of control, particularly when it comes to a child’s safety.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, over nearly 2,500 teenagers in the U.S. died in car crashes in 2018, far lower than the 70s and 80s but still troubling. Two in three deaths are males. 42 percent were single-vehicle crashes. Car crashes are one of the leading cause of teenage death, slightly below suicide.
So how can parents stay calm while handing over the keys? We’re not sure “calm” even applies here. There is hardly much calm while one’s daughter or son backs a two-ton hunk of machinery out of the driveway and heads down the street and around the corner out of sight. One way to lessen the anxiety, assuming that there has been adequate practice behind the wheel, is to discuss your rules and clearly state your expectations. (Note the emphasis on your.)
Make them your rules
We suggest the following—and by no means do we have the only or best solutions:
• When your teenager first takes the family car—and for the following two to four weeks—insist that he or she not offer taxi service. Many accidents are caused by noisy or disruptive passengers. Be firm—absolutely no riders for a predetermined period.
• After that period, allow your teenage driver to have just one passenger for another month or two. After that, set a permanent passenger limit. We’d suggest never more than three.
• Everyone fastens seatbelts.
• Demand accountability. Where are you going? Who will be with you in the car? When will you be home?
• Demand that there be no calling or texting ever while driving. (And no proxy driver!)
• No drinking and driving. Period. Call dad or mom or Uber or Lyft.
• A ticket for a moving-traffic violation—speeding, tailgating, etc.—should result in a revocation of driving privileges for a month. (Any drug- or alcohol-related infraction by driver or passenger ought to carry the stiffest parental penalty of all. And, parents, if the offender is your child, you may have a bigger problem to address.)
Make ‘em stick
Every time you come to that stomach-churning moment when your son or daughter gets into the driver’s seat, make sure you say loud and clear: “Be careful. See you later. I love you!” And then … let go.
One final reminder: Be firm, don’t bend the rules, follow through on punishments—and love them no matter what.