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Why Won't My Teen Learn How to Drive?

Kids these days. In my day, we couldn't wait to get behind the wheel. Cars were a symbol of freedom, akin to the American flag. We were at the DMV the first second we were allowed to get our permits. We relentlessly hassled our parents to take us out to empty parking lots. We studied for the test, we terrified our instructors and. voilà. As long as we could get our hands on a car, we were out the door, baby.

My permit-aged son is not like this. And not just him—it's an epidemic.

Parents are the ones doing the pushing: Don't you want to go out and practice? Don't you want to go wherever you want? Don't you want to roll down that window and turn up the radio? (Radio?)

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My son hears: "Don't you want to drive your little sister around?" Which is probably not too far from the truth.

Beyond that, the kids in his age group are remarkably indifferent to the idea of driving. I hear a lot of rationalizations, the biggest being, "Why bother?"

...I'm projecting the joy I felt at getting my license onto my son. I want him to feel that joy.

"We can walk to our friends' houses. We can walk to the the diner by the school. We can do that from home. So-and-so's mother already takes us there."


It's true, they can do a lot from home that we couldn't do as kids. When we wanted to see a movie, we had to go to the theater. Now your kid doesn't even have to leave the couch. When we wanted to play video games, we had to go to the arcade. Now kids sit alone at their computers with headsets on talking to their friends like they're air traffic control. When we wanted something, or even just something to do, we drove to the mall. Now kids can order everything online, and malls are becoming relics of an ancient civilization.

Kids are used to being driven around by parents, too. When we were young, we pretty much had the run of the neighborhood. We either hung out with the kids who lived nearby or glued ourselves to the first faux-friend who got a license. Now parents are afraid to let their kids outside. They'll drive their kids around the block to a friend's house.

One for the kids' team: It's scary on the roads. More scary than it used to be, I think. More traffic. More aggressive drivers. All of the kids seem a little intimidated by it. I don't blame them.

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I'm forcing my son to learn on a manual, so he's able to drive any car. I never drove a manual and always regretted it. There have been more than a few situations when I've had to fork over the wheel to my husband because I couldn't drive a stick. I don't like his driving.

Kids are used to being driven around by parents, too.

Now we own a manual, so I'm learning. My son is often in the car with me. I have yet to complete a trip without stalling and cursing. The engine cuts at speedbumps, turns, stoplights and in parking lots. I miss the gear, I forget about the parking brake, I forget about the clutch, I forget that I can't eat a hamburger or hold a cell phone. It has been a long, slow process and my son has heard every foul-mouthed, impatient phrase available in my vocabulary. I have been honked at by snooty automatic drivers more times in the past six months than I have in my entire life. My son usually sits frozen, hanging onto the door handle.

Then I say, "Learn to drive! It's fun!"

And then I say, "I'll teach you!"

I do want him to drive. Yes, for my own nefarious purposes. But also, I'm projecting the joy I felt at getting my license onto my son. I want him to feel that joy. But he's really not that interested. None of the kids are. Why? Why can't they be like us? What's wrong with them?

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It's sad to me, and I'm not sure what to make of it. Have we just made life too easy for them by driving them everywhere? Has technology made life too easy for them so they don't have to leave the house?

There are only two things that I can see changing his mindset. One is a summer job (geez, do kids still do that?) and the other is a girlfriend. Once he has a little of his own money and wants a little privacy ... Well, if that doesn't do it, I don't know what will.

Until then, I guess I'm going to have to force his butt behind the driver's seat and tell him how fun it is. And listen to his little sister talk nonstop about cats.

Image via Getty Images

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