Ask Helen


Dear Helen,

I have a 17 almost 18-year-old who has had his driver’s licence for almost a year. The first time he had the car on his own he had very clear directions to go straight to his destination and back with no passengers. He chose to pick up a friend and then go to the destination. We withdrew driving privileges and have worked on building trust again. He has been driving for the last 5 or 6 months, and although cautious, we have given him our trust with the car.

Yesterday we received a letter from the OPP advising us our vehicle was reported to have been driving ''recklessly” with four youths in the car. He described what happened, and now I'm faced with a decision: Do I withdrawal privileges again, or do you have another suggestion? My frustration is that he has a long history of not letting us know there’s an issue or problem until he's in trouble. How do we hold him accountable for his actions without creating a barrier for further communication?
Your thoughts would be appreciated.
Conflicted Parent

Dear Conflicted Parent,
Probably the first and most difficult truth parents learn is that they can't control what their children do either at home or (especially) away from home. The second truth some of us are lucky enough to learn is that we aren't supposed to control what they do at any time. That is their job, and the sooner we give them this job, the better they will become at it — which isn’t to say it’s easy. However, there are some things we can do which can get better results. I have some things for you to think about and some suggestions. The news isn't all bad because once we accept the above, it clears the way for thinking of some things that have a good chance of working.
Keep in mind that:

  • 1. You own the car and pay the insurance premiums.
  • 2. Keeping a good relationship with your son has nothing to do with keeping him in a good mood.
  • 3. Communication has very little to do with what you say and has everything to do with what you do.
  • 4. Your son has already failed on at least two occasions to live up to your trust.
  • 5. Other people deserve to know that they are not sharing the roads with an irresponsible driver.
  • 6. You don't have to work on building trust, he does.

Here is my suggestion:
Normally, I don't advocate removing privileges as a way of encouraging good behaviour. However, this isn’t about a video game or computer. It’s about a powerful machine which can maim or kill unsuspecting road users. I suggest you remove driving privileges until your son can pay for his own insurance, at least in part. Don't give a lengthy explanation. He knows why. Ignore his complaints and don't allow yourself to be sidetracked by trying to justify your actions. You don't owe him the use of your car, but you do owe him the kind of parents who aren't controlled by their son's moods. What he feels about you when you are doing the responsible thing is not what matters. Of course he isn't going to like it. That you do it anyway is what helps create a worthwhile relationship.

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