Our oldest daughter is approaching the magical age of 16. When I was her age, I took a semester-long course at school during which we learned all the rules and even practiced driving. If that were still an option, I would’ve signed up for it post haste. Alas, driver’s ed at school is no more—at least not in Texas. And her band commitments make it so that she can’t take any of the available courses offered by private providers (all one of them available in our small town). So that means we are teaching her to drive.
I don’t love it, but it hasn’t been as bad as I might have anticipated it would be. She’s got a good head on her shoulders and she seems to realize the gravity of what she is doing when she gets behind the wheel. She turns off her cell phone and puts it in the glove box. We turn the music off so she can concentrate and is sure not to miss any of my only-sometimes-muffled gasps.
But at some point, that sense of caution and hyper-vigilance brought on by the novelty of driving will wear off, right? And then what? What will keep her from starting to do one of the many things that might distract her from the road? There’s the new distractions—namely, texting and iTunes selections—but plenty of old distractions as well, like eating, putting on make-up, fooling with the radio, bickering with siblings, shouting at crazy drivers, singing along to favorite tunes, etc.
The first time (of many) that I took her to the DPS office to get the permit, I couldn’t help but notice all the graphic posters meant to scare kids into driving safely. There are posters depicting the physical scars that can be inflicted on someone as a result of drunk driving.
There are posters depicting missing family members at the dinner table—or at a graveside ceremony—as a result of drunk driving.
Posters depicting prom fun ruined by drunk driving.
Sometimes a high school will display a wrecked vehicle outside the school with ominous signs warning students that this could be them if they drink and drive.
Does this stuff work? Does it convince teenagers to drive more sensibly? and just to behave more sensibly in general? I feel like it doesn’t. I feel like most teenagers must respond to these object lessons with a shoulder shrug and a “That’ll never be me.” And I’m not a fan of using fear to intimidate or manipulate people into acting a certain way.
Still, we can’t just shrug our shoulders back and say, “Oh well. Because we know you won’t pay attention anyway, we won’t bother . . .”
So how do we do it? Did your parents pull it off? Did they manage to convince you—via fear or manipulation or guilt—to drive sensibly? Or did they find another way to do it? Have you done it successfully with your teenage drivers?
I have 4-5 months left to get this message across. (Too late?)