Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Parenting Your Teenager: Driving and Having a Car is a Privilege, Not a Right

Q. My teenage son is turning 16 early next year and he's already lobbying us for a new car. He says all his friends are getting new cars, that he deserves one because it's his right when he turns 16, and he won't drive what he calls a POS car. Do you think he is trying to manipulate us, and what do you think we should do? And since he won't tell us what a POS car is, do you know?

A. What to do depends on what you want to accomplish.

If you want to teach your son that he can pester and manipulate you into giving him his way, then by all means get him a new car.

I know that's not what you want to teach him though.

What you have is an excellent opportunity to teach some important life lessons.

But first, let's get that POS question out of the way. POS stands for "piece of s---" and is just another one of your son's tools in his manipulation bag.

Rwo Important Life Privileges

There are at least two important principles to teach in this situation.

The first is the vast difference between rights and privileges.

Your son believes that getting a new car is his right as a 16-year-old. It's not. In fact, turning 16 does not even entitle you to a driver's license. It does make you eligible for the privilege of getting a driver's license.

Fostering the belief that privileges are in fact rights leads to a raging sense of entitlement.

Fostering a belief in privileges leads to a rare sense of ownership, appreciation and perhaps even stewardship, which is taking good care of what you have.

The second principle is the sometimes hazy difference between wants and needs.

A need is a "must have" for survival, or to accomplish something important. A want is something you would like to have but can live without.

Your son might need a car to get safely from place A to place B and you may also want to stop chauffeuring him. He may want a new car, but he does not need one. Even if you can afford to give him a new car, I think that would do him more harm than good.

Sit down with your son and tell him that you have discovered what a POS car is and assure him you have no intention of getting him one.

Similarly, you have no intention of getting him a new car either. Briefly - and I mean short and sweet briefly - explain the difference between rights and privileges and wants and needs.

Then tell him that you will be glad to help him find a Point A-to-Point B car.

If he wants anything better, tell him that for each dollar that he saves over the price of a basic Point A-to-Point B car, you will match it.

He will not walk away from this conversation jumping for joy.

He will walk away with the beginning of some very important life lessons, which is really the best 16th birthday present you could get him.

Leading parenting expert Jeff Herring is a teen and family therapist, parenting coach, speaker and syndicated parenting and relationship columnist. Jeff invites you to visit ParentingYourTeenager.com for 100's of tips and tools for parenting through the teenage years. You can also subscribe to his free weekly internet newsletter "ParentingYourTeenager."