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Opinion

Simon: How aging teens spark mixed feelings in parents

There are few things as simultaneously liberating and horrifying as having a teenager.

My oldest son — a rising senior — just got his driver's license this past spring.

There's a weird trend I've noticed among some teens. They don't seem to be as excited about getting their licenses as we were once upon a time. I have a niece who is in her 20s who doesn't drive. My neighbors' twins didn't get licensed until they were 18.

I don't know what it is. Maybe it is the cost of driver's education (well worth the price whether they take it in school or privately, if you ask me). Maybe it's the cost of insurance (okay, I'll admit, that one gave me a small cardiac episode). Maybe kids just don't feel the need to drive themselves around if their parents or a few friends will do it for them.

Whatever the reason, it seems like the urgency and cool factor in driving isn't as strong in kids today as it was back in the day.

So, while my son did still get his license at 16, he was just a month away from his 17th birthday. For most of his junior year, he was still taking the school bus or relying on friends to get him around. He didn't have a job, because I simply didn't have the time to drive him to one on a regular basis and there weren't really any available within reasonable walking distance of our home (and to be honest, I didn't want him walking or biking in poor weather in the dark, so I didn't push it).

But then the day came. Coincidentally, he got his license on my younger son's birthday, and claimed that was the "gift" he was getting his brother, whatever that means.

It was then that he tasted the freedom. He's almost there. He's almost an adult, legally, anyway.

I remember the day I got my license, the first thing my mother did was hand me a list and send me to the grocery store. And I remember quite vividly that I almost rear ended another vehicle while I was running that errand (something I've never told my parents, sorry Dad if you're reading this, but the Buick was fine!).

But I seem to be reacting to my child's vehicular freedom much like my Mom did. I've started to rely on him to run errands, to pick up his brother, to fetch my coffee ("I'll buy if you fly" is the standard for a coffee run here). I have also benefited from this new freedom, no more so than the day I found myself caught in an unexpected rainstorm while out for a walk, and my son was able to come and pick me up.

We are in a privileged position where we were able to hand down my husband's old SUV to my son while my husband bought himself a new car. We've made the typical requirements — you must have a job, you must pay for your own gas, you must pay toward insurance, get a ticket and you're back on the bus.

For the most part, he's taken our warnings of not using his phone or driving too fast to heart, although obviously we cannot be with him all the time. We can just hope we've given him the right message, left the right impression, and maybe scared him just enough to know the importance of being careful.

But now, as back to school barrels down on us and he heads into senior year, the freedom he has, the independence that I tried so hard to ingrain in him, it's starting to worry me. He's awfully close to simply not needing me. He has a car. He has a job. He gets himself up and goes to school, to work, out with friends. He pays with his own debit card. He actually follows the rules for the most part and comes home by curfew. He makes his own dinner. He washes his own clothes. And now he's just nine months away from entering adulthood.

When he was a baby, my mother was one of those people who would say that I should "enjoy every moment," advice that rings hollow when one is elbows deep in diapers and tantrums.

But now. Now I understand.

It's simultaneously liberating and horrifying. Their freedom into adulthood is right around the corner. It's hard to let them go.

• Marney Simon is the editor of the Morris Herald-News. She can be reached at msimon@shawmedia.com.

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