For several years I have modified my email electronic signature to note events or trends in my children’s lives. It occurred to me the other day that a change is impending as my 14 year old daughter anticipates learning to drive.

In Texas the kids get to start learning to drive at 15 or so to prepare for the licensing process. Generally, with a few hours of class- room teaching, the student can obtain an instruc- tion permit once they are 15. This permit allows them to begin behind the wheel education. With a minimum of 6 months of further education (classroom, behind the wheel and testing) the student is eligible for licensing at 16. Even then there are additional limitations on the license. Two that I am very much in favor of are the pro- hibition of more than one passenger in the car that is under the age of 21. Focus is required for driving and a car full of your buddies does not contribute to this focus. Likewise, they are not allowed to use a “wireless communication de- vice.” Please, no texting or calling while you are driving in the car beside me. Perhaps because I do have two teenagers, I end up counseling a lot of adolescents and their families. If I can estab- lish a little trust with both sides that come to see me, my greatest ability in the relationship is one of translator. I usually am not invested in what the parent’s issues are and so can work with the kid to get the parents to see life from a teen’s point of view. If I can get the kid to lighten up on the attitude and use adult-friendly language, they usually walk out of the office feeling heard and gain back at least a little of the power they seek. Likewise, since I have kids, and worked in the Trauma Room at Methodist Hospital, I un- derstand parental concern and even fear. I have seen what rolls into the hospital at midnight and I am the guy that had to make that call in the middle of the night. I know first hand what hap- pens in the real world. BTW- midnight is the bewitching hour and kids need to be in before then. I will also admit that what I have seen has influenced where I draw boundaries with my kids (my son once told me that the gift he was going to give to his kids was that he would NOT work in an ER). Since I am not their parent, I can usually say the same thing that their parent has been saying (visualize Charlie Brown’s teacher and “BLAH BLAH BLAH”) for some time but the client-teen will hear it when I say it.

One of the issues that is a regular topic of discussion is when should the young teen start this education process around driving. The idea of Mommy’s little man or Daddy’s little girl be- hind the wheel is a sobering visualization. Not only does one realize how time has slipped past but also we are immediately struck with the im- maturity level of our child and the starting place of “they’re not ready to drive.” It is a constant topic for discussion (or negotiation) in my of- fice. To every parent’s surprise I come down on the side of the kid and encourage the parent to get them started behind the wheel as soon as possible.

Here is my rationale. Call the day that the child gets to drive by themselves (with your per- mission) Drive-Day. You do have control over when D-Day occurs. Hold out until the child is ready and as responsible as you can influence them to be. But the fact remains that the number of days between today and D-Day are finite. Let’s call that number X Days. Lets call the number of hours that the child practices in X days- call them Y hours. You can control the number of Y hours that the driver drives in X days. Here, more is better. As unnerving as it is, get them out and get them driving. There are things that happen on the road we cannot pre- dict, and no amount of “telling about them” will substitute for experience. Clearly, the way we drive will influence our teens but until they wit- ness another driver blow a red light and nearly kill them while behind the wheel, will they pay closer attention and increase awareness at lights. Putting off their driving will only limit their ex- perience, and ultimately we as parents get to choose D-Day. I want your child (and you want mine) to have as much experience between now and then as possible.

“In the spirit of full disclosure, both of my teen- agers are now driving.” Daniel Gowan

Rev. Daniel Gowan, LCDC, LPC-S