Teenagers in Suburbia

This is a comment that a friend of the blog emailed to me yesterday:
Here's something I noticed on Saturday night: I stopped at the Westlake Giant Eagle at around 9:30pm and found tons of teenagers just hanging out and walking around the store. Is that some new trend I've been missing out on?
I can't comment specifically on this being a trend, as I do not spend much time in suburban supermarkets. I do, however, have a theory about teenage behavior in suburbia.

(from Flickr user Malingering)

The turning point for most American teenagers is when they turn 16 and get a drivers license and their own car. There's some evidence that fewer teens are driving or getting licenses once they turn 16. Some are telling the "technology" narrative, that teens don't need to hang out in big box parking lots anymore because they can hang out on Facebook. I think it's even simpler than that.

Driving is expensive. Almost no 16 year-old teen can afford it on his own. In suburbia, the cost of driving has historically been subsidized by parents. Maybe a kid had a job at McDonald's and paid part of the cost, but hardly the full burden. This arrangement also gave disciplinary leverage to parents. If their kid got a bad grade or misbehaved, just take away the car - it's the ultimate form of punishment.

Things are different now. Mom & dad are out of work. The mortgage on their house is underwater. Something's got to give. If the parents say no to giving their kid a car on his 16th birthday, that's tough luck; the kid probably won't be able to afford one on his own. And without the necessary resources, what's the point of spending time and effort in driver's ed? So yeah, of course fewer kids are getting drivers licenses; but they are still stuck in car-dependent suburbia and they still don't have a whole lot to do.


    In my son's case, he got his license for identification purposes. Normally, he takes the bus and HRT subway on dates. The car is used rarely.


    W. K. Lis, I'm not sure what the situation is in your state. I know that in Ohio you can get a state identification card without having to go through the whole process of getting a drivers license. I had a learners permit for most of my teen years which served the same purpose, I suppose.


    Yes, I'm sure you can get a non-driver ID in all states.

    I have never had a license.

    Did a post and linked. Your Washington post link seems to be broken.


    Thanks, John. Link should be working now.

    On March 10, 2010 JN said...

    In California you can get a non-driving ID card, but there's some stigma involved. Many officials and official documents simply ask for a "driver's license" when asking for identification, and my wife actually had to go through an extended application for her passport. We called the passport bureau to ask why she had to go through the extended process (which involved asking such varied questions as "Where were you baptized?", the birthplace and jobs held by every member of her immediate family, and a copy of her photo in her high school yearbook), and they said "Oh, she sent in a state ID and not a driver's license. That's always a red flag."

    (Also, our learner's permits aren't valid for ID purposes.)