Raising teenagers these days presents one new issue after another. But nothing compares to the stress of seeing your teenager start driving.
Car accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers. Fourteen-year-olds show their stupidity wasting time on the Internet. Sixteen-year-olds show theirs drag racing in western Shawnee. Local headlines are full of the “thrill-seeking” high school junior who took his sophomore girlfriend hill jumping and two hours later got a two-for-one deal at the funeral home. The only teenager impervious to this belongs to a cloistered Mennonite community. And right now I’m on the hunt for one.
While teenagers have always been fixated on fast cars, video games have taken this to a new level. My kids learned to drive at age 5 with racing games. Those games encourage them to run red lights, jump bridges, ditch the cops and get the high score. Hollywood knows all this. Kids flock to the racing movies, like “Gone in Sixty Seconds” or “The Fast and the Furious.” The latest in this genre is “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.” No plot, just races and crashes, but no one gets even a scratch.
So the Keenan household has a boy who turns 16 in 49 days, seven hours and 10 minutes. And we have issues. Huge issues. So I did what any responsible dad would do. I left town on a business trip. My wife kept her cool. She enrolled him in driver’s education school.
Used to be, drivers ed was part of the high school curriculum. A wildly popular class because you got to leave the school premises driving a car. At age 15. Back then, the driver’s ed teachers was the exclusive domain of the football and basketball coaches, like Mr. Keller at Harrison Junior High. With his KU pedigree known to us all, when he was sitting in the passenger seat, literally God was our co-pilot.
But sure, the jock teachers had a modest academic curriculum—driver’s ed, study hall, and shop class. Driver’s ed gave them the opportunity to pick up stuff, get their mail, and check out the field conditions at the rival school before the big game. All at the expense of the Board of Education. But someone got cute and pulled the plug. Leaving most parents with the “private school” options.
So driving schools began to flourish. Someplace in Lawrence offers an “all day” school—drop little Johnny off at 8 a.m. and by 5 he is ready for Talladega. Our choice was Twin City Driver Education in Overland Park. None of these classes come cheap. It takes top dollar to recruit an adult willing to ride with your son. Someone pre-fitted with a neck brace.
So last month I took my son to class. Saturday morning, 8 a.m. The students were in two groups. The girls were ready to go. They had been up for a couple hours, applying the flat iron to the hair, studying the materials, anticipating the test drive. The boys just crawled out of the back seat. Their brains were still in suspend mode.
For the driving instruction, Twin City will pick up your son or daughter. Meaning the students must give directions. The girls bring a map. The boys bring a live brain cell, maybe two. They blink a couple times, stare into space and say something brilliant like “Uh, do you know where Olathe is? I live close to that Subway shop.”
So this month if you see a car on State Line Road with a “Student Driver, Twin City” sign, take the first exit.
Published June 2005.