Teenage milestones

Give teens the independence and knowledge they need to become responsible adults.

By Christine Langlois

Driving privileges

Your thirteen-year-old is emerging from childhood still dependent on and controlled by you in many aspects of his life. The main developmental task that lies ahead of him in the next few years is to successfully make the transition to a much more independent adolescent who controls and takes responsibility for many, if not all, aspects of his life.

Driving, managing personal time, and managing money are three major areas in which your teens will face exciting challenges and major risks, but they'll also have many opportunities to grow and become more independent. In each area, the adolescent needs to learn how to handle the increased freedom and responsibility, preferably with your guidance and encouragement.

Driving
Getting a driver's licence is a big step toward adulthood. The first time your daughter slides behind the wheel for a solo drive, she's experiencing a sense of independence and freedom that she may never have felt before. You're probably experiencing major anxiety, and not without cause. Driving is a huge responsibility that poses new risks for your teen. Successfully passing the driving tests gives her the licence to drive — it's still up to you to decide whether she has the appropriate skills and maturity to drive in particular situations.

Let your son know well before he says he wants to apply for his licence that driving is a privilege that he must earn. Let him know that before you allow him to drive the family car on his own, he will have to prove to you that he can be responsible for a tonne of metal moving at high speed. Let him know that you'll judge his readiness by how he handles responsibilities in other areas of his life that might affect his driving. Does he show good safety sense when he's on his bike, on his blades, on the ski hill? Does he keep you posted on his whereabouts when he's out? Does he meet curfew? Does he come home sober?

Driving school
If you believe he isn't ready yet, let him know why and negotiate some goals for him to meet in order to be ready. Set a time in the near future to re-evaluate his readiness. When it's time for your teen to learn to drive, take the advice of the Canada Safety Council and sign him up for formal driving instruction. Look for a school that is approved by a recognized association — some insurance companies may reduce premiums for young graduates of these schools. Also, choose a school that offers students both hands-on driving instruction and classroom instruction, including defensive driving and emergency procedures. Check that the school offers reports on the student's progress and co-driver information for parents to use when driving with their teens. Although you should encourage your teen to enroll in a driver education program, you play a crucial role in helping your teen become a good driver by giving him lots of practice behind the wheel. You may find it nerve-wracking at first to be in the passenger seat, but look upon the time you spend practice driving with your teen as a special time together.

It takes a couple of years for a new driver to gain adequate experience, which is why almost half the provinces have instituted a graduated licensing program with two or three levels of licensing. Usually the applicant has to pass a written test to receive the first licence, a beginners or learner's permit to practice drive. It stipulates when, where, and with whom a new driver may drive. In some provinces, recognized driver training can shorten the time between the tests for each level leading to a permanent licence. It's best for your teen to have clocked 2,000 km practice driving before he tries the test for his licence. Make sure he learns to drive with an experienced driver in the different kinds of conditions he'll encounter — driving at night, in the rain, and in snowy or icy conditions.

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