Most teenagers are eager for the freedom and privilege that comes with owning a car, both to handle their own responsibilities (like driving to work and school) and to improve their social lives. But if you’re like most fathers, you’re reluctant to buy your child a car, usually for one or more of the following reasons:
• Responsibility concerns. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States, so it’s no surprise that many parents are concerned about how their children would use a car if they had one.
• Financial limitations. You may not be able to afford to buy a car for your child, or may not want the additional strain on your budget.
• Spoiling your child. You could be concerned that buying your child a car will spoil them, making them feel entitled or fail to appreciate the value of the vehicle.
So are there any good reasons to buy your teenage child a car, other than making them happy?
The Car Buying Process
The car buying process is confusing if you’ve never been through it before, and understanding it can help you in a number of different areas in life—it can help you make better significant life decisions, budget your money more appropriately, and even learn to negotiate. Helping your child understand what it’s like to get an auto loan, for example, can teach them the power of compound interest and how basic financing works, and explaining the different makes and models of cars available can help them make vehicular purchasing decisions in the future.
Giving your child the responsibility of car ownership can instill them with more discipline and value for their possessions. For example, needing to refuel, get oil changes, and regularly maintain a vehicle teaches them how to take care of their things. If you give your child additional responsibilities, such as driving their siblings to sports practice or running errands for the house, they’ll learn to be even more responsible.
Freedom to Experiment
Though it’s a bit scary to give your emotionally volatile and inexperienced teenager more freedom, that freedom is important to the process of growing up. Freedom allows your children to make their own mistakes and learn from them independently, rather than exclusively being force-fed lessons about what’s right or wrong. This is risky, of course, because it means your teenagers will make more stupid decisions, but it also means they’ll be able to discover their own identities and what’s important to them earlier than their peers.
If you do decide to buy your child a car (or help them buy a car), you should consider following these best practices:
• Aim for utility. Buying your child a high-performance sports car or a luxury model that’s designed to impress is a way to help your child “keep up with the Joneses,” and may instill a sense of materialism or superiority. Instead, choose a vehicle that’s built to be useful, instead of pretty or flashy. You may even deliberately choose an old or ugly car that has more “character” for your child.
• Set firm rules. Be clear and proactive about how your child is and isn’t allowed to use the car. If they’re now responsible for various errands, let them know how and why—and what the consequences are for skipping them. Set a curfew and consider other rules (such as only texting when they get to their destination, or never carrying passengers with them while unsupervised).
• Make your child at least partially responsible for the cost. If you decide to let your child use your car or buy the car entirely yourself, consider making the child at least partially responsible for the costs. Paying for a car, even if it’s just through insurance payments, gas money, or repair costs, will make your child appreciate the vehicle more (and take better care of it). You may also consider making your child get a part-time job in order to mitigate the cost of the vehicle.
• Include your child in the buying process. Don’t go out and buy a car by yourself; instead, make your child an integral part of the buying process. Research different vehicles with them, and take them with you to various dealerships. Point out what to look for when buying a car, and explain how financing works at every level.
It’s neither right nor wrong to buy your child a car or provide one for them, but there are some advantages to giving your child that automotive freedom and responsibility. Consider your options carefully, and if you can’t come to a logical decision outright, trust your gut on the matter.
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