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What really changes when your teen turns 16?


I'm driving with my daughter on the highway and I'm in the passenger seat. The car behind us is honking because I'm telling her to stay within the speed limit and ignore the fact that others are zipping past us. I'm acting calm for her sake, but I'm terrified.

On those days that I have struggled with work life balance, I've looked forward to the day my daughter was old enough to get her license. I dreamed about how she could zip out to the store for me when we run out of milk or make that pick up from soccer practice when I was on deadline.

For the last year, I've been teaching my her to drive. The experience brought out emotions I never knew were possible -- mostly sheer panic. I've hit the imaginery passenger brake more times than I care to admit. I've clutched the ceiling when I wasn't sure she saw the car backing out of its parking space and right into us. It's been a trial in parental patience, one my husband was unable to survive.

Within a week, my daughter will be eligible to get her license. The day that seemed  impossibly distant when I arrived home with a newborn in a pink cap is now here -- and with its arrival comes my realization that while my work life balance will get easier, my emotional well being will never be the same.

I see in my daughters eyes that she can't wait for that first step toward independence. But I also see a naive teen who couldn't fathom that someone might pretend to be a police officer or bump the rear of the car to lure a young girl out of her car. I see a young girl that might not know how to react when a distracted driver swerves across the lane trying to send an email from his BlackBerry. I've forbidden my daughter from using her cell phone in the car, but will she always stick to that rule? I will worry every time she pulls out of the driveway and I will wait up until she's safely in bed at night.

Last week, I read an article in the Sun Sentinel that said teens in Florida are spurning that freewheeling rite of passage and postponing getting their licenses. That follows a national trend toward a drop in teen drivers attributed to the high cost of gas and insurance and the increase in smart phones. Today's teens can stay in touch without having to drive to see each other.

Parents, I know many of you have encouraged your teen to drive. Having them drive to school or work or both could make a critical difference in your work hours or ability to hold your job. And, at some point, teens need to learn how to drive, especially in places like South Florida, where public transportation is limited. But have you ever thought about whether 16 is too young? I'm starting to think 18 would be a better age.

Do you think raising the drive age would make a difference in how your teen handles the maturity needed to drive, or would raising the age just be too difficult on working parents and teens who work?