After I’d been a licensed driver for a week, my parents finally felt comfortable enough to let me drive myself to volleyball practice. It had been a long six months of excessive corrections from a backseat drivers, so I welcomed those five precious minutes alone. My parents stood on the front porch watching me prepare for the first solitary drive. Ignition? On. Lights? On. Music? Quietly playing so they wouldn’t worry that I was distracted. I rolled down my window to bid them adieu when my mom rushed over, signalling for me to turn the engine off. She wanted a sentimental moment (and, of course, a photo to share with all of her 57 Facebook friends) before I drove off, but we parted on an unexpected note.
“Lilia, while you are driving, make sure to check your rear-view mirror just to make sure that nobody is following you home,” she said, before running back up the steps to the house. Her advice left me uneasy, but I was still confident that I knew how the streets of Los Angeles worked. After all, I had taken the public bus to work every day during the summer, and I didn’t think driving a mile would make me an easier target than that experience had.
However, over the next week, I noticed that I looked in the rear-view mirror more than necessary. I wasn’t making sure that the person behind me was prepared to stop. No, I was looking for the person who was following me home.
My parents, usually fonts of helpful advice, turned their daughter into a paranoid driver. I began to wonder whether I should continuously check the mirror even when my sister or a friend was in the car; they would think nothing of it, but I would feel more responsibility to keep them safe as well. Do I need to check the mirror for my friends, who are oblivious to the middle-aged Prius driver who has been on the same streets that we have for the past ten minutes?
I talked to some friends who had recently gotten their licenses, and although many did not experience the same level of anxiety that I did while driving, a few said that their parents had warned them of the same things. Some parents had pushed my friends to lengths such as wearing a hat while driving, even in the dark, so that drivers and potential predators wouldn’t recognize them as teenage girls. Another one of my friends told me that her mom will not let her walk home from the bus stop because her mom thinks that when even a Self-Defense graduate has a heavy backpack on, she can’t stand up as straight as she should, and that bad posture is like a provocation to older men. Parents, we love you, but please understand that not everything we do is a neon sign saying “ATTACK ME.”
I completely understand that parents want to protect their babies, even when their babies are 5’7” and driving. However, when my parents over-caution, it makes me feel like they already expect me to be the victim, even before I am put in a vulnerable situation. Parents should teach their teens to stay aware but not tell them to actively look for bad situations.
Just as parents shouldn’t tell their three-year-olds to look out for the monster under bed, they shouldn’t tell their newly licensed driver to look out for creeps following them home.