After just reading Teen 2.0 last month, I read in this month’s edition of Car and Driver magazine that the Washington Post reports that only 30 percent of 16 year olds in 2008 received driver’s licenses, as opposed to 45 percent 20 years ago. Methinks the two are related.
I remember being so upset when I learned that my sixteenth birthday occurred on a Sunday because that meant I would have to wait one extra day before getting my license. I was peeved. Why did it matter to me so much? For one, I was (and still am) simply a car guy. There’s something about the confluence of engineering, design, style, do-it-yourself-ness, adrenaline, skill, leisure, performance, and camaraderie that occurs within the car and driving subculture that drew me in years ago and wouldn’t let me go. I admit that most teens likely don’t fall into this category.
But secondly, driving was a rite of passage. It marked a clear demarcation of increased independence. In those days there were no graduated licenses or restrictions once you passed your driving test at sixteen. We got a license, piled as many people as could fit in a car, and hit the road trying to time, to the minute, pulling into the driveway at night with our curfew. There was a load of independence and responsibility that was conferred instantly when we received a driver’s license. It seems like the kind of thing for which Dr. Epstein advocates.
Driving seems to be viewed as more of a practical necessity than a rite of passage, as evidenced by this young man’s comments in the Washington Post story. It’s almost as if teens don’t even want independence, they just want to get to their next athletic practice or student council meeting:
The senior at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring has a learner’s permit, but the required 60 hours of practice driving toward a driver’s license have taken a back seat to his Advanced Placement classes, the rowing team, the literary magazine and Web design projects. “It’s hard to spend all that time on driving when I can get places without it,” he said.
Conlon said this as his mother, Eva Sullivan Conlon, was driving him to the store to buy supplies for a school project; she ends up taking him places a few times a week.
The article suggests a few key reasons for this shift in the priority of driving in teens’ lives: increased academic and extracurricular loads and increasingly electronic relationships. Quite simply, it is difficult to find the time to take the courses, study the material, and get in the driving time necessary for acquiring a license on top of AP classes, club involvement, athletics, and fine arts. Add to that the fact that teens today are comfortable relating via Facebook and text messaging, and there is no imperative that teens get a license so they can meet up and hang out together. It’s easier, and common, to just meet up digitally.
I find all these trends troubling. Decreasing independence, increasing commitments to academic and extracurricular activities, and an increasingly digital and un-corporeal relationships seem like things that will have a long-term negative effect on our teens and our culture at large.
What shall we do about it? Car and Driver magazine is launching a Save the Manuals! (manual transmission) campaign. I don’t think it will be that simple, but I’m all for saving manual transmissions. No, there is something deeper going on here that is increasingly enslaving our teens to school and the digital world, and I’m not exactly sure what my role and the churches role should (could?) be in breaking this trend.
What is the church’s role in all of this? Isn’t it getting to the point when enough is enough?