Never Stop Driving #46: Are the kids alright?
Do kids like driving or not? I’ve been noticing dueling narratives. In the “we’re doomed” category, Substack writer Rob Henderson, a psychologist, explains how today’s kids are more risk averse than previous generations and don’t want to leave their parents’ basements. The percentage of 17-year-olds who have drivers licenses fell from 62 percent in 1997 to 42 percent in 2021.
The New York Times, on the other hand, recently highlighted a group of Southern California youths for whom the car is a cherished means to freedom and adventure. I probably should be celebrating the Times piece—a love letter to the car—but it’s presented in an artsy way, with photos fit for a Forever 21 catalog. My colleague Joe DeMatio pointed out that the article merely confirms that for many young people in America, the car is as important to their social lives and development as it was for the characters in the flick American Graffiti a half-century ago. For the kids in the NYT piece, cars are rolling rec rooms, a way to connect with friends in person rather than through a phone screen. DeMatio found it heartening and hopeful and dismissed my concerns about the photos with a characteristic wave of his hand. Give it a read and let me know what you think.
I have three kids under the age of 20 so I naturally consider myself an expert on the topic. I’ve witnessed the corrosive effects of today’s never-ending digital entertainment stream and often resent the devices that take up so much of my kids’ time. Then I remember that T.V. got its turn in the hurt locker, and most new entertainment technology is accused of being unhealthy. Tastes and behaviors change. The world changes.
That said, I rely on cars to lure my kids off the screens so I can connect with them while they’re still at home. The machines are wonderful gathering points, as I’ve pointed out many times, from a road-trip tale to our book Never Stop Driving, now available in audio format. I’ve recently taught three stick-shift lessons to my 18-year-old daughter, who’s never leaned toward the family business. A kid who’s long viewed cars as her old man’s curious obsession now sees stick-shift driving as a potentially fun and valuable skill to have. During our first lesson in an empty high-school parking lot, she accidentally did three burnouts and laughed each time. I did too. Now she wants to drive our ’86 Mustang to school.
A few years ago, we dove into the topic of kids and cars and concluded that there’s plenty of automotive enthusiasm in the next generation. I still believe that but am aware I travel in self-reinforcing circles. I’m also wary of too much screen time for our kids. Ben Franklin believed there’s virtue in moderation. Except, of course, when it comes to my cars, when too much is just enough.
I’m grateful to work at a company fueled by a purpose to save driving and car culture for future generations. Hagerty Media contributes to that purpose via the material that we produce, which we hope stokes and spreads the passion. As evidence that it does: One of our time-lapse engine rebuilds, on a Chevy pickup engine, has over 45 million views.
If you enjoy our content and would like to contribute, please join the Hagerty Drivers Club, which now offers a free, 60-day trial. Already a member? Thank you. Please encourage your network to do the same.
Hear from Larry every Friday by subscribing to this newsletter.
Check out the Hagerty Media homepage so you don’t miss a single story, or better yet, bookmark it.