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Q. Our daughter is turning 17 next month and my husband wants to buy her a car. She's had her license for about 7 months and so far she's only received one speeding ticket. She is a pretty good driver, and an average student. My concern, however, is that the car will distract her from her school work. Can you give me some guidelines to help me decide if she's ready?
A. There are some advantages and many cautions regarding buying a teen a car. Also, there's a big difference between having a car available for your child to drive, and giving her one that's hers to use to go anywhere she wants, any time she wants.
Let's face it: it's convenient for parents when their responsible teenager has a driver's license and access to a car. For the parent, there's no more driving the teen to and from soccer, cheerleading, or various social events. Plus the teen can deliver younger siblings to their activities and when needed, make a quick run to the grocery store.
If your daughter proves herself a responsible driver, when her gang of friends go to the movies, to the mall, or out for fast food, she can be the designated safe driver and the other kids can chip in for gas. You don't know what kinds of drivers the other kids are, but if your daughter is a safe, responsible driver, better to have her behind the wheel of the car than someone who isn't as cautious or law-abiding as your daughter.
Additionally, the keys are one of the last items of which parents hold the controls. Let your daughter know that if she receives another ticket, she loses the privilege of driving the car you've purchased for her to drive. If her grades go down, she loses the privilege of driving the car you're buying until her grades go back up again.
Then there's the issue of car insurance and gas. Who will pay for these? If your daughter is required to pay for either or both, those expenses may force her to get a job. A job may pull her away from studying. A cell phone may be another purchase that goes along with car safety -- it's another expense and an item she may abuse, but it's another expense you may need to bear for safety's sake.
It might be too much for your daughter to keep up with a job, her extracurricular activities, and her academic responsibilities. Some kids can handle it all, others can't. It's important to think and consider along with your daughter how much stress the responsibility of a car will add to her life.
Develop a specific contract regarding rules for driving this car. The contract can change but be sure to include her curfew and that she needs to keep you informed as to her whereabouts. Having a car for a teen to drive is to great way to test a teen's ability to manage herself out in the real world; it's also scary as kids sometimes get into car accidents and behave in a car in ways they would never do elsewhere.