This month our eldest son turned 15. Everyone I know has an opinion on whether he should or shouldn’t get his learners drivers license; everyone that is apart from him.

I am sure he looks in the mirror and thinks…crikey I don’t believe I am old enough to get behind the wheel of a car. And as long as he is deliberating there won’t be any encouragement from his father or myself.

Given the alarming statistics about young males and road accidents I am in no hurry to put this situation in the reach of our son. But I know the inevitable will happen. His peers will start to drive and he will need to feel like one of the crowd.

At present we have two larger vehicles mainly to accommodate our large family, so he will struggle to see over the wheel let alone drive the equivalent of an armoured car on the busy road.

But the law says he is old enough to learn to drive so we all need to best prepare ourselves for this next major milestone in his life. Already I have abdicated my responsibility in this role; I am what you would probably call a control freak. I hate being a passenger even with my husband who could best be described as a real nana behind the wheel. I must admit that he does have more patience and the idea of teaching his son to drive doesn’t seem to phase him. Given that patience isn’t one of my virtues the great relationship I have with my son would be sorely tested behind the wheel.

It appears like a badge of honour these days to turn 15 and immediately get your learners licence and why not – it is legally allowed. The driving lessons that follow are a little more expensive but I can’t imagine learning this important skill without the help of professionals. Thankfully the process has a number of steps before they have full control of the wheel.

It always amazes me that while your kids are getting older the issues become more complex so it doesn’t get any easier, and man it certainly gets a whole lot more stressful. Thankfully we don’t have any signs of alcohol consumption in our children yet, but I know that thousands of kids at his age are drinking regularly and worse still drinking to get drunk. The culture we have in NZ of binge drinking is of real concern and again the statistics are alarming.

Luckily John and I agree on this one! We don’t encourage or allow 15 year olds to drink although we know plenty of adults who do. Plenty of our friends tell us that by saying no we only encourage them to drink behind our backs but my answer to that is .. if their choice is to knowingly do something that we condemn then they will face the consequences of their actions. Sounds tough but there are some times in your child’s life that you really have to be staunch.

Heaven help us, all educated people know that a young person’s brain is not developed enough to consume alcohol at such a young age and yet it is now accepted that a young man’s passage through life should include many drunken binges.

Celia Lashlie’s book demonstrates the role that alcohol plays in many young mens’ lives; what it doesn’t say is the damage and destruction it causes. For a lot of teenage males drinking gives them the courage to talk to girls, feel socially accepted. Sad that so many young ones have such low self esteem.

The thing that worries me most is the horrific combination of drinking and driving. Even the responsible ones are often the victims. So I worry about all the other idiots on the road.

I would love the government to raise both the drinking and driving ages, if anything it will give me a few extra years peace of mind but realistically gives the kids are few more years to mature.

I listened to a woman being interviewed on the radio the other day. She was Chairperson of “Drinkwise” in Australia. Interestingly enough she said that their research found that teenagers are more likely to listen to the advice of their parents when it comes to alcohol than be influenced by their peers or by some campaign with celebrities or sportspeople.

So good advice is that while we think our kids think we don’t know anything about anything…the reality is that sometimes they are wanting us to simply make the decision for them.

A political party that would raise the drinking and driving age would sure get my vote this time round.



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Dame Susan Devoy is New Zealand's Race Relations Commissioner, and a World Open champion squash player. She's the former CEO of Sport Bay of Plenty and super-mum to four boys.

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