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When Your Kids Hit the Road THE CHALLENGES OF YOUNG DRIVERS
I n movies, teaching kids to drive is always portrayed as this incredible bonding experience. The dad takes the son out to some deserted parking lot, and as he shows the kid the ropes, they grow closer. Of course, this makes sense; as your teenage kids learn to drive, they’re taking a massive step toward their independence, toward becoming a fully-functioning adult in the real world. But in my experience in teaching my kids to drive, there have been less of those peachy cruises around the parking lot, and more worrying close calls and classic teenage outbursts than I’d care to admit. As proud as I am of my kids for learning to take the wheel, it’s been a bit of a struggle to get them up to snuff. Sometimes I wonder if we unnecessarily invite some challenges into our lives. Though the driving schools have all migrated to automatic transmissions, we insist on our kids learning to drive a stick shift. Don’t get me wrong — I’m no old-timer pining for the days before automatic was the standard. Manual transmissions are a pain in the neck, but we stick to our guns for two reasons. The first is that, when you’re constantly forced to think about shifting, it’s a lot harder to text and drive or otherwise be inattentive on the road, so that brings us some comfort. The other is that you just never know when one of these kids will get in a situation where they have to drive a stick. I always joke that if the zombie apocalypse happens, all these new modern cars and computers aren’t going to be much use — but a stick shift will work through thick and thin. Our oldest has had her license for a couple of years, and our 16-year-old daughter just finally got her license, but man, it’s been a serious battle with the latter. It all comes down to the fact that she absolutely, completely despises driving a stick shift. I guess it basically just stresses her out. I’ve witnessed firsthand the meltdown that occurs when she stalls at a green light or stop sign. She acts as if we’re torturing her by allocating her a car with a manual transmission — it’s one of those truly frustrating parenting moments where you just have to scratch your head and do your best.
My youngest son just started driver’s training this summer, and my fingers are crossed that he’ll be a little easier through the process. But even if he is, it’s difficult to shake off that worry that nags at the back of your mind when your kids are suddenly out alone on the road. You’ve spent hours at their side while they were driving around, and you know they’re not anywhere near the level of an experienced driver, but you have to let them go anyway and just hope that they stay safe. Of course, it’s absolute bliss when you suddenly don’t have to cart them around to practices and hangouts and events every day all over the city, and it really is pretty moving to see them doing things on their own. But still, don’t let anybody tell you otherwise: the path to the driver’s license is fraught with challenges.
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