Veal Calves

You have probably read about the younger crowd being more interested in their cell phones than in cars. The statistic most often cited in support of this claim – which is true – is that about a fourth of those in the 18-30 bracket don’t even have a driver’s license.

Which is also true.

And it’s probably on purpose.

Most states don’t allow a teenager to get a full driver’s license until he’s almost not a teenager. He’s allowed to drive – but only by himself. Or with an adult (someone over 18) in the car with him. Not with his friends (or his girlfriend).

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Forget beach week/spring break – unless driven there by mom and dad. Might as well stay home.

And so, they do. Which is just the point. To sever the emotional bond that heretofore formed between teenagers and cars – and driving them – which lasted a lifetime. It’s much easier to get people out of cars when they haven’t got much interest in getting in them.

Until the’90s – when the Safety Cult metastasized into a state religion – American kids champed at the bit to get their first driver’s license – which they were eligible for the day they turned sixteen – because it was a fully adult driver’s license. Once they possessed it, they possessed the right to drive wherever, whenever – and with whomever.

Just like any other adult.

Which, in no small measure, they had just become.

You were still a teenager, certainly – but no longer a kid. You drove to school; kids rode the bus or with mom and dad. After school, you drove to your fast-food job or your friend’s house or the mall  . . . wherever you wanted to go, on your own and with no one’s supervision other than your own.

Parents still exhorted – be careful! – and some attempted to impose restrictions – let us know when you get there!  – but the force of them was tepid and fleeting; the sixteen year old had been empowered – and the parents knew it. But both benefitted. The no-longer-quite-a-kid had taken a giant step toward independent adulthood, which is the ultimate object of parenthood – because he was no longer completely dependent on mom and dad, as kids are.

He had assumed adult responsibilities – which inevitably hastened the transition to psychological adulthood alongside physical adulthood. He needed his parents less. Began to function more and more as an equal-in-process.

He had fledged.

This liberated parents as much as the bird about to take flight. If young son had hockey practice at 4 in the morning, mom and dad could sleep in, at last. They could ask young son – or daughter – to help with adult things now. Pick up something at the store on the way home. Take younger brother or sister to school, practice or their friend’s house  . . .  so mom and dad didn’t have to.

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