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When is my teen really ready to drive?

Strict standards and rules will help you lead your child through this exciting time of life, says "Today" contributor Dr. Ruth Peters.
/ Source: TODAY

Q: My daughter will be turning 15 in a few months and she’s already talking about getting her learner’s permit for driving. In my state, kids can take the written test and if they pass, they can drive under the supervision of a licensed adult. After she’s had her permit for a year, she can take the actual driving exam and receive her driver’s license, enabling her to drive alone. Needless to say, I’m less than thrilled with this idea, but I realize that she’s feeling a lot of peer pressure since many of her friends are already driving with their parents. I want to be fair and reasonable, but I don’t know if I’m ready for this passage into adulthood! And, what are your suggestions about when she’s ready to receive her “real license” and what she has to do to earn it? Any thoughts?

A: Yes … plenty of thoughts, memories and concerns! It scared the bejeebies out of my husband and I when each of our children “came of age” and couldn’t wait to put the pedal to the metal! Luckily we had considered the pros and cons and had set up standards that the kids had to follow:

  • The child had to be showing adequate initiative, judgment and responsibility in major life areas in order to take the learner’s permit examination. This included working to their potential in school,
  • Agreement to engage in either a school-based driver’s education class or one obtained privately. Since I’m a bit on the “you can never be too careful side," both kids took the school-based
  • Agreement that plenty of practice driving was necessary within the year between receiving the learner’s permit and earning the actual license, and that an adequate level of driving skill, knowledge and reflexes would be necessary.
  • Realization that just because the above conditions were met, that continued good judgment, grades and decent behavior would be necessary to be granted the privilege of taking the actual driving exam, leading to the “real license.”
  • Understanding that earning a license in no way would mean instant access to a car. We began by allowing each child to drive one of our cars after school to run short errands, and gradually the length of time was increased as our comfort level developed. Every state has clear times of day and/or night, as well as curfews, when teens of varying ages are allowed to drive. In addition, teens in our state had to be students enrolled in school as well as having achieved a certain grade point average to even apply for the license if under the age of 18 years.
  • Acceptance of our driving rules: No friends in the car for the first six weeks. None, nada, don’t even think about it. Following that time period, Dad and I would need to be told who was going to be picked up, where they were going and we would expect a phone call when they arrived. Cell phone usage while driving, although legal in our state, was nixed except to call home or to answer our calls to them. If any fudging occurred (child is supposed to be at friend’s house but they were actually cruising the beach), driving privileges would be curtailed.
  • Any usage of substances (liquor, marijuana, or other drugs) while driving
  • Recognition that they would be expected to contribute a reasonable amount of money toward insurance payments. The amount would vary with the school and work load, but part of this responsibility would be on their shoulders.
  • Having free access to their own car was not a given. This would depend upon family finances, the teen’s needs and whether they basically deserved one or not. A third car in the family is a huge expense that is not to be taken lightly. Too many kids expect, and receive, a vehicle on their 16

I hope that these guidelines, which worked for us, help you in leading your teen through this exciting time of life!

Dr. Ruth Peters is a clinical psychologist and regular contributor to “Today.” For more information you can visit her Web site at . Copyright ©2006 by Ruth A. Peters, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific psychological or medical advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand the lives and health of themselves and their children. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist.