Buy This App and Never Talk to Your Child Again!
When I wrote a few years back about the precipitous drop-off in the number of young men getting driver’s licenses, Uber was just beginning to get off the ground. I didn’t know enough about it to even consider that it might be a factor in the decline of the American male love affair with cars. Time flies; this week the New York Times reported that nowadays, instead of nagging their parents to take them for their driver’s tests and buy them Mustangs when they reach majority, kids are asking for their own Uber accounts.
As a parent, I’m of two minds about this. Considering how dangerous teen driving was even before the invention of cell phones and selfies, having anyone else but my kid behind the wheel when he heads out to a party or concert seems like a great idea. On the other hand, what’s next? Start-ups that come to your house and get you dressed? Hold your fork to your mouth?
Maybe. Teenagers really seem to enjoy the Uber experience. I guess it makes them feel like Kardashians to be chauffeured like that. The Times quotes one 16-year-old, Jonathan Golden of Santa Monica, California — Beach Boys territory, for chrissake! “Little Deuce Coupe”! — as saying, “It’s like being driven around by your parents, but you don’t have to hold a conversation with them.” That frees you up to send photos of your genitalia to friends!
Driving once represented the transition from child to adult. With your own wheels beneath you, you could go anywhere, do anything. But while teens used to aspire to become grown-ups, now it seems a fate to be avoided; better to spool out your “emerging adulthood” as long as you can. The freedom to explore that a driver’s license once represented isn’t needed anymore, according to Amanda Lenhart, associate director of research at the Pew Research Center: “Young people wouldn’t delay getting their license if they felt that it was critical to them as a talisman for freedom and independence,” she told the Times, explaining that the cell phone takes care of all that now. I would worry about where young people are losing their virginity if not in the backseats of Buicks, but somehow I have a feeling they’ll work that part out. Or maybe they’ll just sext, which would have salutary effects on teen pregnancy and STD rates.
The Times points out that Uber and its ilk can be less expensive than owning a car, especially in urban areas where insurance rates jack up for a teen behind the wheel. And generations of parents who come after me surely won’t regret missing out on the harrowing experience of teaching their children to drive — not to mention the costs of repairing learners’ accidental encounters with other cars or, in my daughter’s case, a fire hydrant. (Honey, I don’t know why they put that there.) So perhaps my nostalgia for the old days is misplaced.
But there’s a controversy in the ether right now about how much of yourself you’re required to give up when you become a parent. On one side are those who insist that anything less than total slavish devotion to one’s offspring is a dereliction of duty; on the other are those, usually childless, who say they’re simply not willing to go to that extreme. The good news for the latter is that technology is coming to their aid. I just received a press release for a rideshare app called Opoli that ferries kids as young as four to and from their appointments — a toddler Uber, if you will. No more tedious trips to dance class or the pediatrician; let Opoli take your baby there!
Let’s be frank: Young children really aren’t particularly interesting. Why face being strapped into the driver’s seat while little Miranda recounts some interminable tale about who was mean to whom at recess? Why listen as Aidan haltingly admits he finds math puzzling, or isn’t very happy at gym? The fewer intimate encounters you have with your children, the less you’ll know and understand them, and vice versa. That way you can be sure your child will grow up just like Jonathan Golden, preferring being driven by strangers to having to endure a discussion with the humans who gave him life.
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