Nancy K., a grandmother from Irvine, California, wrote into “The Ethicist” at the New York Times. She explained that she lived with her daughter and that her 15-year-old grandson confides in her more so than with his mother. The lad told grandma that he has a 16-year-old friend who gives him rides to various places despite the 16-year-old’s parents’ wishes that their son not shuttle passengers. Grandma did not want to say anything for fear of losing her grandson’s trust. But, she was worried that there could be an accident and how could she live with herself.
If there is a 16-year-old with a car, there will be an accident, the only question is how much of one. They may back into something, or they could be caught doing 75 mph in a 35-mph zone. Good judgment is years away.
Grandma made the mistake of presenting her issue as an either/or conundrum: “If I tell my daughter or the parents of the young driver, my grandson will never tell me anything. If I don’t tell, what if there is an accident? I could never forgive myself.” The Ethicist gave the advice of someone who may not have raised teens, “”I’d tell him that he shouldn’t be accepting these rides and that you’re keeping his confidence on the assumption that he’ll stop.” That oughta do it right there. Especially using the words, “keeping his confidence.”
Did it ever occur to anyone to use the bond that grandma has formed with her grandson as a tool of persuasion? Did it ever occur to anyone to to discuss the risk issues? There are some awfully scary YouTube videos that could so the trick. In fairness to The Ethicist, there was this preface to the response, “Putting Covid-19 issues aside. . . ” Right– the gravest danger of a 16-year-old and a 15-year-old riding around in a car is a virus? Did it ever occur to grandma to express her love and concern by offering to ferry the young ‘un wherever he needs to go? Did it ever occur to grandma that the parents of the driver may have insurance rates based on the fact that their son will not have passengers unless an adult is with him? Did it ever occur to grandma that the laws in many states prohibit or limit drivers under age 18 on their passenger quotas? Did it ever occur to anyone that the grandma may be overestimating her access to inside information from the teen?
In the simplest of questions, there are so many issues and alternatives that seeking a promise from a teen by employing the “I’ll tell” sword of Damocles may not be the best tool for preserving the relationship anyway. It is certainly not the best tool for shaping a young life. Perhaps, most importantly, it is not a resolution to the issue of grandma’s concern for her grandson’s safety. A teen’s promise not to do something the teen wants to do is about as valid as a teen’s promise to do something the teen does not want to do. I’d like to see the young man’s room. Ah, their promises to clean that up. Frequent, but never kept.
The Barometer offers anecdotal evidence (despite how it is much maligned in these days of COVID-19 and science). A parent told his 16-year-old son, “No passengers.” His son agreed to the bargain. Experienced parent that he was, the father surreptitiously put tiny cameras on the car. The camera picked up something interesting. Here’s how the conversation went when the son was confronted with one of the camera videos, “Dad, the only reason I had someone in my trunk . . . ” Dear reader, you figure it out from there. Trust, but verify has a role in the teen-drivers-and-passenger thing.