Double Take: Teenage son has no interest in driving

Dear Ben and Wes: My son seems very unusual among his peers. He doesn’t want to drive. All the other kids got their licenses after driver’s ed, but my son isn’t interested. I tried to talk to him about why this isn’t important to him, but he just says he doesn’t see the point.

He’ll be in college next year, and I don’t know how he’s going to get to a job. Do you have any suggestions?

Ben: My car is currently broken down, and I have very little difficulty getting where I need to go. In high school, you generally having an arsenal of friends with cars and licenses who are willing to give you a ride to where you’re going, not to mention driving members of your family. Your son may not realize that this luxury won’t be so readily available in college, especially if he plans on going away from home.

Granted, if he has an alternate mode of transportation, perhaps this isn’t such an immediate issue. Many college students rely on buses and bikes to get around and save a good wad of cash in the midst of high gas prices; however, this is something that needs to be planned out, not assumed.

Yes, senior year is fun, but it’s also a year to start thinking purposefully about the future. Details like transportation are things that need to be seriously considered.

Help your son to work through these details, since you’ve probably had to deal with many of them yourself.

Wes: I agree with Ben. Owning a car will, for most teens and young adults, create more headaches than it cures. With the price of gas headed up, perhaps forever this time, your son may be smarter than those of us who’ve built our lives around the worship of shiny metal boxes. There are many colleges where cars have little use. I just got back from University of Wisconsin, and that’s definitely one. The whole city is built around the U, bikes and scooters being the norm. However, it gets pretty cold up in Madison in December, which brings me to the next point.

Unless your son commits himself to life in a city with great public transportation (Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C.), and he’s very smart about how he manages his time, he’s going to have a hard time not needing to drive.

Likewise, when one choses any path at age 16, to the exclusion of any other, he creates conditions for regret. Sure, your son could learn to drive at 21 (or 61, for that matter) but he’ll lack the crucial period of supervised experiential learning that creates good drivers, even as he’s being thrust into that role. I suggest you incentivize driving for your son through any means at your disposal, even if he only drives with you in the car for a few years. He doesn’t need to go out cruising every evening (at a rate of $100 per tankful). He just needs to know how to do it well before he heads out to college.

I have been running into this problem a lot lately. Some kids have an almost phobic reaction to driving. If your son is at that point, I’d drop in on the therapist for some “systematic desensitization” to reduce whatever fears he might have.

Next week: A follow up question on sexting.