Drive Time – “Growing Pains” for Parents of Teen Drivers
Lately, I find myself counting the months until my 15 year old can drive. As I look at the calendar, I think, “Ok, only three more weeks until play practice is over. But … then there’s pit orchestra and maybe soccer. I wonder if we can car pool with anyone….” I drive 40 minutes south of our residence to get to work, and we drive 20 minutes north of our residence to get to school. Not only that, but my husband and I are spoiled. We have a four year gap between our oldest two kids and the next two. So for a few years, we had two teen drivers to help us out. But now, the older two are in college – and the third one is not old enough to drive yet. So Mom’s (or Dad’s) taxi it is!
Drive Time as Together Time
Even as I eagerly look forward to less driving, I also feel a sense of sadness. I will miss those times with my kids in the car. Some of the best talks with my kids have been during those car rides. When there is nothing else to do, words tend to flow more readily. (It’s one time when I’m glad we don’t have smart phones.) For some (generally boys), talking feels less threatening when there is something else going on, i.e., driving, and when there is less direct eye contact. In addition, many of these car rides take place at the end of the school day when kids are more likely to debrief about the events of the day, and it’s not late at night when everyone is tired.
Teen Drivers are Teens Growing Up
Still, when the time comes, my son will get his license and I will gladly give up the extra driving time. (That is, if we have an available car!) These thoughts remind me of the developmental process that is part of raising kids. We as parents are always working ourselves out of a job. We are always learning to let go as our kids mature and take on more responsibilities for themselves.
A teen’s “job” at this stage is to discover who they are, what they like and don’t like, and what they are good at and not good at. Developmental psychologist, Erik Erikson, calls this stage identity versus role confusion — the fifth in his eight stages of psychosocial development. Our job as parents at this stage is to encourage exploration while providing support and direction.
Both Parents and Teens Can Experience “Growing Pains”
This parenting role is not always easy. Sometimes we feel sad when we have to let go. Sometimes our teen will push back and not accept our direction. Sometimes we give too much direction and alienate our teen. Sometimes the process is uncomfortable as our teens are learning new things and making mistakes. Again, I like the analogy of driving. I’m eager for my kids to drive themselves. But in order to get to that point, we may have to go through that ‘white knuckle’ stage as they learn.
If you and/or your teen are having trouble navigating some of these developmental stages, consider talking with a therapist. In the southwest Chicagoland area, Hoover & Associates in Tinley Park offers counseling for parents, teens, and family groups – and for other age levels and issues as well.
On another note… If you have a teen who will be driving soon, be sure to check with your auto insurance about software programs that you can purchase and complete with your teen driver, to receive a significant discount on auto insurance. (One such program is teenSMART.)