By heidi Stevens
Your son’s pals are getting cars for their 16th birthdays. How do you help him deal with the fact that he’s not?
Parent advice from our panel of staff contributors:
“Stall him. Then when the first of his friends gets ticketed or has an accident, just look at your son and nod knowingly.”
– Bill Hageman
“Yeah, sucks to be you. On the other hand, some kids get lunch buckets and directions to the coal mine on their 16th birthday, so deal.”
– Phil Vettel
“As soon as you can pay for it, you can have a car.”
– Dodie Hofstetter
“Make them pay for it, maintain it, insure it and pay $4-plus a gallon to drive it anywhere.”
– Ellen Warren
Help him deal by explaining honestly why you’re not buying him a car, says psychologist Jennifer Powell-Lunder, author of “Teenage as a Second Language: A Parent’s Guide to Becoming Bilingual” (Adams Media).
“A lot of parents are afraid to say no to their kids because they’re afraid of their reaction,” says Powell-Lunder. “Sometimes your job is to say no. But you should offer an explanation.
“I’m a believer,” she adds, “that every time you talk to your kid about anything, especially in conflict, it’s an opportunity to teach them something.”
If the no-car decision is based mostly on principle – you believe he’s too young for that much responsibility; you believe he’ll treat a car more carefully if he buys it himself; you don’t want him feeling entitled to big-ticket items – explain that to him.
“When he says, ‘But Johnny’s parents are buying him one and you like them!’ you answer, ‘That’s Johnny’s family. I know that’s hard for you to hear, but let’s talk about our family.’”
If you actually would like your son to have a car but you simply can’t afford to buy him one, talk to him about ways you can save money together to make it happen.
“‘Let’s come up with a plan for how you can get this car,’” Powell-Lunder suggests. “Maybe you come up with a matching funds setup. That can be a great, collaborative discussion where you talk about independence and autonomy and working for things he wants.”
Any conversation about the desired car, she emphasizes, should include some discussion about what’s acceptable behavior when driving a car and occupying a car, who pays to insure it, how it will be maintained and what the consequences are if rules are broken.
“A car is the greatest responsibility most kids will have,” says Powell-Lunder. “Even if the kid buys his own car, at any point the parent has the authority to take away those keys.
“Those are tough conversations to have and they can feel like an affront to your kid,” she says. “But you need to have them.”
Have a solution? Your friend posts uncomfortably personal stuff about her kids on Facebook. Should you tell her to stop, for her kids’ sake? Find “The Parent ’Hood” page on Facebook, where you can post questions and offer tips.