My oldest son got his driver’s permit when he was 15, with plans to get a driver’s license right after his 16th birthday. I’ll admit, I was looking forward to this day as much as he was. For him, getting his license was a rite of passage, another step toward adulthood. As for my wife and me, we were looking forward to being able to send him out for a gallon of milk or anything else we forgot at the grocery store.
Everything looked good—he logged all his practice hours in and set up a date and time to take his driving test. But there were signs of irresponsibility—playing with the radio and answering the phone while driving, for example. We just chalked these up to teenage behavior.
Then, a couple of weeks before his birthday, our son asked if he could go for a drive. By himself. Without a license. Seriously. Of course, my wife and I said no. Driving without an adult in the car is illegal for anyone with a driver’s permit.
For the $500 cost of driver’s ed, I’d hoped this simple fact would have sunk in. Plus, only a couple of weeks remained before he got his license. Not only was this a ridiculous idea, but now a seed of doubt sprouted in our minds: Was our son capable of being a responsible driver if he wanted to break driving license rules right off the bat?
Our son got angry and left the house. No big deal, we thought. But the following day, a friend who lives nearby told me that he’d seen my son driving a car through the neighborhood the previous evening with another teenager. To our way of thinking, driving without a license was a very serious offense.
I’m not sure what I was angrier about: the fact that he broke the law, that he disobeyed us, or that he was foolish enough to do it right in our neighborhood.
Because of this, along with his lack of remorse, we told our son he couldn’t get his license for a year.
He kept his nose relatively clean, and the following August, our son tested for and received his driver’s license. This is a big event in any teenager’s life, a major step toward independence. It’s been a long time, but I remember well the excitement of getting my driver’s license. Freedom!
I also remember spending most of my meager savings on an old car that I couldn’t afford to put gas in. With college in his future, I didn’t want my son to waste his savings on a car. We had an old GMC Jimmy that we decided he could use. The vehicle had about 200,000 miles on it but ran great. When handing him the keys, I stressed that the GMC was still our vehicle and that he should treat it as such.
All went well, for a couple of weeks. Then I found him installing lights under the dash, pulling the speakers out, and doing something to the rims. I reminded him that the Jimmy was not his vehicle and that you don’t make changes to someone else’s vehicle.
A week later, I noticed deep scratches all the way down the passenger side of the Jimmy. Looking closer, I saw that much of the trim was torn off and the front wheel was actually warped. When I asked my son about it, he said he took it on a trail to go fishing. I’ve been down fishing trails, and my truck never came out looking like that. I again reminded him that the vehicle was not his, and he needed to tell us when there was a problem.
A few weeks later, the brakes went. It also needed new tires. The total cost for brakes and tires was about $1,000. After talking it over, my wife and I decided that we would pay for the repairs and give the Jimmy to my son for Christmas.
Then my son got in trouble at school, and I’d finally had it. We took away the keys to the Jimmy and eventually sold it. We no longer allowed our son to drive our vehicles. He wasn’t happy, and neither was I— who would do our errands? But it had to be done.
He obviously was not ready for the responsibility that comes with driving privileges.
Our son left for college last fall, then dropped out and moved back home weeks into the second semester. Leaving college had an unexpected effect on my son— it humbled him. It also forced him to grow up. He’s now living on his own and working two jobs. And, I’m pleased to say, he bought his own car.
I don’t regret making him wait an extra year to get his license—he was too immature. He could have posed a danger to himself and other drivers. But I do believe it was a mistake that we didn’t make him pay for his first vehicle. I thought I was doing the right thing, but in hindsight I can see that teenagers value and respect something more if they earn it themselves.
The person who may suffer most because of all this, I’m afraid, is our 10-year-old son. Because there’s absolutely no way that kid’s going to get a driver’s license before he turns 18.