Riding In Cars With Boys? How Will My Daughter Come Home from College?

Question: In September, my daughter will be attending a university in Boston, which is about five hours by car from our home. I'm nervous about her leaving home, but I'm obsessing even MORE about how she comes back. She's already gathering names of other local underclassmen with cars who can drive her home for vacations in exchange for a contribution to their gas costs. This is a concept that I remember well from my own college days, but now I'm having a hard time accepting the idea of my daughter riding with a stranger--even a fellow student--who may be inexperienced driving long distances on major highways and in bad weather. Is this ride-sharing still a common practice?

"The Dean" also recalls being stuffed like a sardine in a dilapidated Dodge Dart, chipping in a couple bucks to cover the cost of gas and tolls from Massachusetts back to Philadelphia. Yet, in recent years, I've often noted that the many of my contemporaries who share similar memories nonetheless provide vacation-time chauffeur service for their own offspring. Sure, some kids still ride home with other students, but that seems to be more the exception these days and less the norm.

So, this is a judgment call that you may be forced to make next fall ... not unlike others that surely came before it. Remember all those leaps of faith you've taken over the years ... the first time your little girl walked to school alone? Rode her bike to the store? Went out on her first "real" date? Spent a weekend at the beach with a friend you couldn't pick out of a line-up? There were probably times when you said "Yes" when other parents were saying, "No," and other occasions when you put your foot down firmly, although you were told (amidst tears), "Everyone else is doing it, Dad!"

Well, once again, it's up to you to determine the boundaries of your comfort zone, but it's probably time for another one of those leaps of faith. After all, you can't expect to monitor your daughter's drivers forever. But, on the other hand, it seems reasonable to ask her to use some sort of screening process when accepting a ride from a stranger. For starters, she should confirm that her driver really is a fellow student. She should find someone else she knows who knows this person, too, and can vouch for his or her good character and judgment. You can also talk with your daughter about other options. Are you and/or your spouse willing to make the trip? If so, how would your daughter feel about that? As I said, in today's college culture it's not unusual to rely on Mom and Dad for rides. Your daughter might actually be happy to avoid the hassle of finding her own transportation. Alternatively, unlike more remote campuses, every school in Boston has easy access to planes, trains, and buses.

With a teenager under your roof, you've undoubtedly learned to pick your battles, so whether this is a fight or flight issue is up to you. But do keep in mind that, as soon as you air your concerns about riding in a car with a total stranger, you've opened the door for your daughter to start lobbying for a car of her own.