On the highway of life, there are so many wonderful adventures with our kids. That is, on the metaphorical highway of life. On the literal highway, especially when our kids start sitting behind the wheel of the vehicle we all are riding in—well, let’s just say the word “adventure” takes on a whole new meaning.
It’s rare to meet a child who isn’t eager to start driving. In addition to the excitement of becoming a driver—being the one in sole control of a three-thousand-pound automobile—our young often dream of soon having their very own car, truck, or even motorcycle. While it’s something we adults uneventfully, almost robotically do on a daily basis, it is not something in which we tend to be ready to watch our offspring participate, especially the first time around.
I imagine there are countless articles on how to keep calm while teaching your kid to drive. Of course, there are driver’s education courses and schools, but the real practice seems to come at the expense of the parental finances. There also can be quite a cost in the gray hair department!
One of our sons learned to drive in Seattle and took a class at an overpriced driving school. The middle boy took a class at a moderately priced driving school in a mid-sized city on the opposite coast from where his older brother earned his license. The youngest took an old-fashioned, public school-sponsored, coach-taught, free-to-the-parent summer offering in a rural Kansas community. Regardless where they cut their driving chops, my wife and I were unequivocally the practice driving guinea pigs. We learned right along with them, maybe not the same concepts, but we learned.
Unfortunately, the celebration at the DMV upon passing that final test was only the beginning: we had a new driver in the family, but we didn’t necessarily have a new car for the new driver to drive. Check that. We absolutely didn’t have a new, or an old car, for the new driver to drive.
What do parents do with this dilemma? Of course, it will vary from family to family, not only due to financial situations, but also to family beliefs and priorities. My wife and I decided that if we were having the boys help with family driving duties, such as dropping a sibling at a sports’ practice, or running to the store for milk, we provided the vehicle. Beyond that, if the child was keeping up at school, with chores, and certainly with wise choices, he could occasionally borrow one of our vehicles for something he wanted to do. Said vehicle would have to be returned on time, clean, and filled with fuel. If that didn’t suffice, the child was free to work to earn money to purchase, provide gas, maintenance, tags, taxes, and insurance for his own.
As with anything in the world of parenting, judgment from others abounds. We had friends who thought we were winning at the parenting game and others who thought we were harsh taskmasters. In the end, now that all boys are grown with families of their own, I thankfully can say they consistently thank us for allowing them to discover the pride of hard work, responsibility, and ownership from a young age. They also feel it made for true “adulting.” This is especially so now they are becoming parents themselves, a transition not seemingly as difficult as many of their peers claim to experience.
Again, every family is different. Every family has varying circumstances. Every family has to find its own rhythm. In your search for the right familial beat, don’t rule out the opportunities to empower your children in discovering how good it can feel to not only be a responsible driver, but to simply be... responsible.
Kevin Weaver, CEO of Network211 and father of three sons, lives with his wife KyAnne in Springfield, MO. He enjoys spending time with family, hunting and watching University of Kansas basketball with his boys! He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
My wife Jill and I have been married for almost 22 years and have two teenage boys. Hayden is 15 and a sophomore at Kickapoo High School and his brother Caleb is a 13-year-old 8th grader at Cherokee Middle School. When we look back it has all gone by so fast. People always tell you it will but, when you are living it every day it can be just a blur. From changing diapers, learning to talk and walk, sports, homework, church and now soon to be drivers and girlfriends, WOW what just happened!
When I think of all the conversations we’ve had with our boys over the years it’s amazing. We’ve always tried to be open and honest with them, but also tried to keep it age appropriate. Sometimes you can offer up too much information when all they are really after is just a simple answer to satisfy their curiosity. But there are times they can go deep with their inquiries.
I remember when Hayden was younger and an early riser like me (but now that he’s a teenager sleeping in is a common occurrence). Most Saturday mornings while Jill and Caleb were still asleep we’d going riding around together—no real destination just coffee for me and maybe some breakfast for both of us. We’d talk about all kinds of things just as they came up while we were cruising around town for an hour or two. It was just simple basic stuff, but what great memories for me and hopefully for him. I think most of the time he taught me more than I taught him. Kids have a way of breaking it down and keeping simple; adults tend to complicate things. Remember everything we need to know we learned in kindergarten and kindness matters.
This past summer I had the chance to drive to several baseball tournaments with Caleb. Just me and him while Jill was running with Hayden to his baseball games. Divide and conquer. Those of you with kids involved in various activities know what it’s like. It was a blessing to me to get to spend more time with him. Talking, (listening to music most of it his, but some of mine too), and staying in a hotel together as roommates. While I like to watch him play and compete to watch how he responds to and handles game situations, e.g., winning and losing I was most proud of him as a teammate and watching him develop and gain confidence in himself. Now when I hear some of the songs it brings back memories of the summer road trips together.
Lots of our conversations with the boys now have to do with sex, drugs, alcohol, death, friends and even politics. It’s grown up stuff that sometimes I don’t always understand or have all the answers. But together Jill and I do our best to have a discussion to help them think through it and hopefully make good decisions. They must understand the consequence and the impact it will have on their future and career opportunities. We sometimes hear the locker room language during the sex talks. All the things they hear on the bus at school on social media and even on TV or YouTube. It’s sure not Leave it to Beaver anymore with Ward and June explaining things the Wally and Theodore.
I think it is extremely important to include Jill in the conversations as they happen, although she would sometimes like to bow out. When the topic of sex comes up she’ll roll her eyes or give a heavy sigh and ask, “Do I really need to be part of this?” I feel they need a woman’s perspective. It’s important to hear from their mom what girls think and feel about boys and men.
Death is another topic we’ve always been very open about with our boys. We’ve lost close family members and friends over the years. When my brother battled leukemia several years ago and finally died in 2010 we included the boys in our regular visits with him and openly discussed his disease with them. They really seemed to understand it more at times than we gave them credit.
Communication is key. It is so important in any family or organization to have open, honest and respectful conversations. Not that we are experts. It can get heated in our household at times. Tempers flare at times with teenagers. My wife is good about making sure we eat together regularly as a family. And when we go out to dinner NO cell phones are allowed. It works most of the time.
Having frequent conversations is so important. You don’t always have to have an agenda. Just make sure you take the opportunities to talk when they arise, and they will. I know they often do around our house and especially when driving in our vehicles. And remember to listen to our kids. They will tell us what they want to know and they can teach us lessons. I know my boys do all the time.
Dennis and his wife, Jill, are the parents of two sons. When not staying engaged with his sons and their schedules, Dennis volunteers time as a Good Dads Board member. He can be reached for question or comment at email@example.com.
How can two children growing up in the same house with the same parents be so different when it comes to motivation and self-discipline? This was the mantra in our home when my husband and I were called to Cherokee Middle School to have a meeting with ALL of our son’s 7th grade teachers (in one room) to discuss his unwillingness to turn in assigned work – even when that work could be completed during regular class time. His older sister (by five years) never had to be told to do her homework, had great attendance, and excellent grades. Both children were tested for the Springfield Public School’s Wings program prior to second grade, and both qualified with the exact same IQ score. So what was the problem? Simple—high IQ doesn’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with high motivation.
When we met with Jake’s counselor in middle school, we were told that sometimes adolescent boys can never be motivated, we were in denial. Surely there was another reason—not our son. Maybe we needed to be stricter and use more punishment.
After no luck in finding any consequences or punishment that would change Jake’s actions, the next few years were a struggle. The key to keeping him from getting failing grades was lots of involvement and staying the course. The push back was relentless and many times wore us down, but we knew that deep inside the teenage boy who said he didn’t care about getting good grades was a very smart young man. We celebrated the victories no matter how small. Many times we had to set the bar lower and work our way up, and then there were the times when a new semester began and we reminded Jake he had an opportunity to start fresh and at the top.
I wish I could tell you that loving your children and giving them the attention they need will conquer any problem. It certainly does help, but with Jake it took us until he was 15 to finally uncover the motivation he needed. When we informed him he could only take his drivers’ test if he had a “B” average, he turned the corner. After his grades improved, he was given more opportunities to show what he could do if given more responsibility and he flourished. It was like a light bulb went off in his head and he discovered how much better everything could be if he followed the rules.
Many of you reading this are dads (and moms) of young children and want your children to be successful in school and in life. You may already know parenting can be one of the most challenging and most rewarding things you will ever do. We are now the parents of two adult children, ages 32 and 27, who both turned out to have an amazing work ethic and a “never give up” attitude. Though the path they each took to get to school and life success looked different, our children turned out to be more than we could have hoped for.
Have you figured out what motivates your child to be successful in school? It could take some time and experimentation to identify what works, but don’t give up. Remember, success doesn’t always look the same for all children. Finding out what makes them tick can be exciting, challenging and rewarding for you and them.
Celeste Skidmore is a member of the Good Dads board. She can be reached for question or comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As of today, I am officially the father of three teenagers. My daughter hung up on me three times as I tried to sing her “Happy Birthday” over the phone. I don’t think I’m that bad of a singer. My daughters are now 13 and 15 and my older son is 17. And you know what? Life is really good. One of those myths of life is that teenagers are terrible. To be sure, they do have their challenging moments and the reality is that mistakes in judgment (of which they often have very little) during the teenage years can have much greater costs than do the spills and scrapes of younger children. But I genuinely like teenagers, which is a good thing considering my job as a school counselor / director of spiritual life in a Pre-K through 12th grade school. I feel lucky to be able to interact with teenagers on a daily basis, as they are really funny and naïve and quirky and challenging and unmotivated and caring and generous and angry and unique and brilliant.
Our challenge as parents of these creatures is to love them, unconditionally in the middle of their defiance and apathy. They really need to hear from us not just when they fall short of our expectations, but when they surprise us with their initiative and competence. Our goal as parents is to help our kids achieve independence by gradually giving them more and more opportunities and responsibility with the requisite preparation and experience.
Are they going to mess up? Absolutely, just like we do. Are they going to cause us pain, apprehension and fear? Are you kidding me, they are teenagers.
There are going to be times when we, as parents, do not and cannot approve of their choices and that is natural and okay. We must remember, however, that approval is not the same as acceptance and acceptance of our kids is not an option. It’s often the fear of not being accepted that keeps some kids from sharing with their parents those parts of their lives they fear mom and dad won’t approve of, or they feel compelled to lie about when caught. We cannot assume our kids know that our acceptance of them is unconditional. Tell them every opportunity you can that you love them no matter what. Show them by really listening and being sensitive to their perspectives and individual preferences.
Every kid is different in all kinds of ways and it’s important that we acknowledge their uniqueness. “I know you don’t want me to come to your tennis match, so you’ll have to find another ride home.” Recognizing their individuality doesn’t mean that we have to accommodate them, but it gives them the opportunity to deal with the normal consequences of actually getting what they want. The beautiful thing is that in dealing with those circumstances, they are gaining the independence that is the goal for both of us. Being teenagers, their ability to function without our assistance is probably closer than we, as parents, are probably comfortable with. Having teenagers isn’t something to fear, it’s something to celebrate. Happy birthday Sweetie
Darren Sombke is the father of four -- two of which are no longer teens, but his love and appreciation for adolescents continues. He can be reached at email@example.com