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Teenage drivers: a mother's perspective

Margaret Larson is a Seattle television journalist and mother to Kyle, 16.

teen driverEven the thought of my teenage son driving made my heart jump into my throat. Did he have any idea of the possible dangers? Could he avoid distractions? How could I make him understand that driving safely requires concentration and focus?

It wasn’t that I didn’t trust his intelligence or his good intentions. It’s just that I understood driving is more than a way to get to the movies…it’s a huge responsibility.

When I was learning to drive (decades ago), there were fewer gadgets and gizmos vying for my attention. I might be wrestling with a messy hamburger on occasion or hitting a button on the radio. But I wasn’t tempted to check my latest text message, or talk on the cell phone, or find a song on my IPod, because none of that existed. My world operated at a slower pace.

I read this week that the American Psychological Association’s annual ‘stress evaluation’ of Americans found that more than a third of kids ages 8-17 feel significant stress. Some of the children reported being stressed out about school, others feel their parents’ stress about economic difficulties, and there were the always-present concerns about appearance and getting into a good college.

Stress, distractions, teenage hormones---all of this is the backdrop against which my son is learning to drive. And no amount of warnings to ‘be careful’ will change that reality. As much as I might like to wrap my son’s car in airbags on the outside, or follow him everywhere, or somehow protect him at every moment, I also know that driving is an important rite of passage that will give him independence and allow him to grow into the man he is meant to be. 

So, I knew I had to rein in my worries give him the best instruction possible. I researched driving schools in our community, and chose SWERVE. He’s taken advantage of the Reality Check program, which he described as an effective simulation of emergency situations. And we put in our behind-the-wheel work to make sure he had loads of practice before he got his license. Another reason for choosing SWERVE’s instruction program for my son was its focus on collision avoidance…and another is its teaching style, geared to the way teenagers learn. It’s not your father’s drivers’ ed, as they say.

Knowing that we’ve prepared our son as well as possible for his driving responsibilities has reduced our stress level. I still worry until I hear the key turn in the door and know that he’s safely home, but I don’t worry as much as I would if I weren’t confident he’d been trained properly.

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