When did giving your teenager a car become a parenting norm? It is amazing what teens today simply expect their parents to provide for them. On the flip side, we expect teens to hold down jobs, do well in school, and perform admirably in all of their extracurricular activities. With what reasonably reliable cars cost these days, a kid can be hard pressed to come up with a down payment let alone pay for a car outright. It used to be easier for kids to buy their own cars. $1000 got them a reasonable vehicle that wasn’t likely to break down more than once a year. Today, $1000 might get them the driver’s side door, window included in low end models.
Okay, so maybe it’s not quite that rough, but car ownership has become more expensive than ever and minimum wage (which is what most high school kids pull in) just can’t possibly keep up. So if we want our kids to take more responsibility for the direction their lives are heading, wouldn’t a car be part of the deal?
There are many considerations that come into play when you are considering giving your teenager a car. Evaluating their genuine level of responsibility is necessary. We all know that accidents can happen to anyone and that there are weather and road dangers that come with driving. It can’t be ignored that in irresponsible hands a car becomes a weapon that can destroy, maim, and kill another human being. Underage drinking and driving is on the rise. Kids under the age of 18 are more likely to drive while high. And of course, kids are prone to doing foolish, daredevil stunts like speed racing in the dark with no headlights down back country roads. Before you hand your kid the keys, you need to ask yourself honestly whether or not they are really emotionally ready to putt putt down the street.
Many kids are truly capable of handling the pressures that go along with driving. Sure, it’s fun for them and it seems like a natural step toward adulthood. It’s great when your teenager hops into the driver’s seat of their first set of wheels and gives you the most incredibly satisfied smile. They have arrived and they know it. It is the holy grail of adolescence and the power is in their fingertips. We all remember just how awesome it was to take our first solo drive, completely in control of our destiny, our decisions, and the outcome for probably the first time ever in our lives. It was like flying on wings that were constructed just for you. We naturally want to give that feeling to our offspring because we love them, and for no other reason that it does our heart good to see them joyous. If you are blessed with one of these responsible and capable individuals, pat yourself on the back and know that you have done something really right. You also got a little lucky, and you want to be sure that while you are making your kid happy, you are keeping them safe. Go over the basics with them until they can recite it backwards in their sleep. Talk to them about all kinds of incidents. Even if they are rolling their eyes and telling you they have it, talk some more. Putting it in their brain repetitively will help them access it in a moment should they need to.
Many parents opt to hand their kids their current car, using it as an excuse to go ahead and buy themselves the new car that they have been pining for. Not a bad route considering that you are well aware of the condition that your current car is in. Buying your child a clunker that will spend more time in the repair shop than on the road is sort of like setting them up in a marriage with your neighbor’s grandfather. A car that can’t get them to work on time with consistent regularity is going to make them look irresponsible. A car that sucks up all their money in repair bills becomes your financial burden as well. A car that falls apart is a safety hazard to your child and to the rest of us sharing the road with him. It’s better to spend a little more on a car that you want to drive and let them have the family sedan.
So what if you are the only parent on the face of the earth (according to your child) that won’t buy their kid a car? Learning to drive is a rite of passage. Some schools even require it as part of their curriculum. Owning a car is an honor, not a right. You are under no obligation to give your child, or even allow your child to acquire a car. This is a decision that only you can make. If you feel that they aren’t ready to handle the responsibility of owning their own car, you certainly wouldn’t be doing them any favors by ignoring that intuition. If you aren’t sure whether or not they are ready and want to give them more time behind the wheel with the family car, by all means that is your right and responsibility. Maybe you simply can’t afford it. When it becomes a choice between a car and the bills, or their first semester at college, the answer is obvious. If your credit is reasonable maybe you can co—sign a loan, but you shouldn’t inhibit the family budget in order to provide a vehicle for your child.
We have discussed many of the pros, cons, and possibilities in this section. Ultimately, only you can decide what is right for you and your family. Hopefully reading through some of the suggestions and checking in with what others think about the topic can help you listen to your own voice and decide what is really right for you and your family. Giving your teenager a car is not a decision that should be made to impress the neighbors, buy out parenting guilt, or even reward a kid for doing something right. It is a decision that comes down to its feasibility coupled with the readiness of your child to accept such a large responsibility on top of all the other pressure in their life.