FROM THE SUPERINTENDENT'S SEAT:
Relinquishing the Driver’s Seat
Your child’s sixteenth birthday is one that is sure to cause some excitement in your household. For, as every adolescent knows, and every parent anticipates with mixed emotions, at sixteen the government has decreed that it’s time to get behind the wheel of a car. Just as with all life milestones, your child’s voyage from passenger to driver definitely needs your guidance and attention. If your child is eager to begin, the first step is to help him or her obtain the test preparation materials for the learner’s permit. Most teens care enough about this test to study hard enough to pass the first time. Once a teen has a learner’s permit, the whole process of learning to drive can progress so quickly that you may want to apply the brakes before it gets out of hand. Because driving is extremely serious business, this is one time where you need to exert your parental authority and lay down some strict rules. Some of them may seem so obvious that you may think it unnecessary to say out loud. Say it anyway. Here are a few suggestions to start with: No driving with anyone other than the Driver’s Education teacher or a parent. (If you have exceptions to this rule, an aunt or uncle perhaps, specify them by name.) No being a passenger in the car of a friend who is driving with a permit, except in the Driver’s Education car, of course. No missing Driver’s Education classes or driving sessions without permission of parent. Teen shall schedule a makeup class as needed. In addition to your child’s Driver’s Education classes, you will need to schedule time to practice with your teen yourself. It is doubtful that any parent can achieve this without feeling a bit of anxiety. Expect to feel your entire body tense, and to find yourself stepping on an imaginary brake on your side of the car. We urge you to start slowly. If possible, take your teen to a large, empty parking lot for your first session together, even if your child has already had several lessons with the professional instructor. Try to remain calm at all times, and do not engage your child in an argument that places blame or accuses him or her of recklessness. As the year progresses, you will undoubtedly see your child’s driving skills improve. Before you are really ready the day will come for him or her to take the road test, and even before it is passed, it’s time to set down some more rules. Before any keys are handed over, you need to set rules about driving with friends (how many at once); how often the teen will be driving and to where (do you want to set distance restrictions?); how late the teen can be out while driving; and anything else you want to address, including fiscal responsibilities for such things as gas and insurance. Once your child is driving, there is something about the dynamic between parent and child that does change. Becoming a driver is a step toward independence and maturity for a teenager.#
Dr. Hankin is superintendent of Syosset Central School District.