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The Double Standard I Have for My Teens Getting a Learner’s Permit

When I was a teenager, my dad didn’t let me learn to drive until I was past the legal age. He thought 16-years-old was too young to get a license, and he wouldn’t even let me take my required Driver’s Ed class until I turned 17. That meant I was a high school senior in a class with a bunch of sophomores. It was utter humiliation.

When it came time for my brother to drive, my dad had no reservations at all – in fact, my dad couldn’t wait for my brother to get his license. As the oldest in my family, I often had to blaze the trail for the common rites of passage.

The Age To Drive: Getting a Learner’s Permit

I didn’t always want to be the trailblazer, however. I often saw my brother doing things at a younger age than I was allowed to do them, and I swore that I wouldn’t do the same to my kids when I was a mother.

But here I am getting ready to do just that.

In North Carolina, where I live, kids can take driver’s ed at 14 ½ years old, and then get a learner’s permit at age 15. Combine that with the increasing numbers of children who redshirt kindergarten, and you end up with kids obtaining learner’s permits in middle school.

I couldn’t believe it the day my eighth-grade son came home and announced that a friend of his had scored his permit, which allowed the just turned 15-year-old to drive as long as he had a parent/guardian in the front seat of the car. The idea of middle school drivers terrified me, so I delayed the learners permit for my sons.

While my boys and I were postponing the driving rite of passage, I learned we were part of a broader trend. In a study conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, 37% of teen respondents claimed that they didn’t get their driver’s license yet because they were too busy.

Delaying Learning To Drive

While most parents remember clamoring to get their licenses on their 16th birthday, teenagers today have different priorities. High schoolers have heavier course loads and more extra-curricular activities than we did growing up. The idea of studying the Motor Vehicle pamphlet, taking a test, acquiring the prerequisite amount of supervised time behind the wheel, and sitting in the Department of Motor Vehicle for three to four hours when they could be studying, rehearsing, or playing their sport isn’t as appealing. For a stressed teen worried about grades and gaining admittance to their top-choice college, getting a driver’s license can feel like just one more thing they have to do.

For me, I simply hated the idea of my boys driving. I hated the idea of them making split-second decisions or hurtling down the highway at seventy miles an hour with teenage boy brains as their guide. It just had danger written all over it, and I wanted to delay it as long as possible.

When my boys turned 17 years old, they each got their permits and went on to get their license the following year.  Each one is an excellent driver, and I don’t have any regrets about delaying driving for them.

Now, though, it is my daughter approaching the legal age for the learner’s permit, and unlike my hesitancy over her brothers getting their license, I want her to drive.

My Double Standard

All of the concerns I had about her brothers and driving are inconsequential when I think of her being in a car with a boy, but unknowing how to drive herself.

I want her to have that knowledge because I want her to be able to take care of herself. If she is with someone who has been drinking, I want her to be able to grab the keys and drive herself to safety. If she is on a date, I want her to be able to get herself home if need be. I want her to feel capable and confident and self-reliant.

Yes, I know that allowing my daughter to get her license earlier than her brothers did is the double standard I swore I’d never do when I was a kid.

I hope my sons understand why their sister was allowed to get her license at a younger age they could. At least they can take comfort in the fact that she is definitely not getting her own car.

I think.

Maureen Paschal

Maureen Paschal is a freelance writer, tutor, teacher-librarian, and a mom to four. You can find her at Raising The Capable Student or Facebook.