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?
Adam Lehman says
I’ve noticed the same things with my teens. I was – like you – PUMPED to get my license.
Our teens today just don’t seem to care. Studying for AP tests is more important.
Todd Vick says
As a college/campus minister I see this problem as well. I know of a few students who didn’t have their license until well into their freshman year of college. I think our society is putting way too much pressure on todays teens to perform and rise to the top. Don’t get me wrong rising to the top, performing well, graduating at the top of ones class, etc. is all good, but there comes a point where the pressure can just be too much. We as adults have to allow our teens to be teens and remember that they are just kids. Additionally, we have to set boundaries when it comes to technology so that we can teach teens how to be social. I’ve noticed that it is getting harder to carry on a face to face conversation with teens, because they don’t know how to talk to someone without using a cell phone or computer. If were not careful we may just end up with a silent society before long that only communicates through texts and facebook…I doubt it but it’s still a serious issue that needs addressing.
Jon Snyder says
most of the kids I know are just not motivated enough to work for the driver license. It’s not that they are too busy. They just don’t think the perks of driving outweigh all their parents’ rules, keeping kids safe laws, and bureaucracy associated with obtaining a license.
Jon Snyder says
…not to mention the availability for mass transit in most cities and benefit of being green as a cost-effective alternative to driving (esp for college students)
To clarify, I’m not just worried that teens aren’t driving. I’m worried that this article is correct in asserting the causes of why this is happening. If the causes are accurate, then there is a cyclical pattern that reinforces negative behavior. It goes something like this:
Busy + e-relationships –>No driving –>more incentive to stay busy and develop e-relationships, less ability to be independent & present to people
We have to be getting to a point of diminishing return on many of the extracurricular activities and academic standards. Okay, so you add just one more homework assignment or one more band competition every year. But after 20 years you come to a place where the load is getting obscene. I feel like we are at that breaking point, at least in my community. There just isn’t any room to breathe.
Who is going to be the first teacher to say that in order to educate their students they are cutting back on homework assignments? It needs to happen, but I don’t see it coming.
Cammie Novara says
“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 can really relate to that from my own experience.
Jake Belder says
“Save the Manuals.” I love it. I really, really don’t like driving automatics.
Great thoughts, Matt. With regards to education, one of the big problems at work is that education is viewed simply as downloading information. So the perception is that the more information you download, the better off you’ll be. But education should be about formation – not just taking in information, not just learning what to think, but how to think. And more, education is supposed to be a social activity. You learn to think along with others, and in the process you learn about interacting with others, and so on.
I think you’re entirely right about the nature of relationships among younger people today. I saw something recently about how true friendships are dying away. We just don’t know how to be someone’s friend anymore, largely for the reasons you’ve mentioned.
Just a comment about driving: in addition to the ability to drive making us mobile and thus enabling us to cultivate friendships, I think there is something more. If you are taught by the right person, you come to understand that operating a vehicle gives you an enormous amount of power. Part of learning to drive is learning the immense responsibility that comes with that. It teaches you all kinds of other things as well (or at least it should) – things like respect for others, and the value of money (once you make that first repair on your car you’ll learn to take better care of it!).
Anyway, great post.
Jake, you’re right about the other dynamics at play when you learn to drive. I should have articulated that better, because those are some of the most profound implications. My passing reference to Teen 2.0 was supposed to point in that direction, but I never developed it.
What I should have said more clearly when talking about this cycle (Busy + e-relationships –>No driving –>more incentive to stay busy and develop e-relationships, less ability to be independent & present to people) that is happening is that the unintended consequences are producing a net loss when it comes to formation (btw, good word to use there, thanks) of our teens. As you point out, one of the unintended consequences of all the stress and burdens placed on our kids because of certain academic and extracurricular pressures is delaying thing which increase one’s social and personal capital (responsibility, respect for others, value of money), things like learning to drive.
I think that this trend in driving is a case study for a the likely myriad ways that we are unintentionally having a net loss when it comes to formation in teens. Who knows what other trends we could point towards.
Don’t get me started on all these proposals I’ve heard about the last couple of years to lengthen the school day/year. Completely and utterly destructive, if you ask me. Anyone with a modicum of sense and care for our kids knows that isn’t the solution.
On another note, aye on the manuals. I’ve never bought a car without one. Four car purchases, four manual transmissions. I love teaching kids in the youth group how to use one.
Now if I can just find someone who wants to learn how to heel-toe…
Jake Belder says
My wife makes fun of me when I say it, but driving a manual makes you almost one with the machine. You are in control of it. You are actually driving.
For the “education as formation” theme, check out some of the stuff James K. A. Smith has written, like Desiring the Kingdom, or some of his essays in The Devil Reads Derrida. He’s from a Reformed perspective, but anyone will find his stuff on education to be pure gold.