Driving responsibility

July 08, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

Tameika Kutrell recently bought a car.

The 16-year-old will need a vehicle to get to Hagerstown Community College in the fall, to take classes while she completes her senior year at North Hagerstown High School.

She got a deal, paying $100 for the 1991 Ford Probe.

Owning your own vehicle can be viewed as a sign of maturity. But there's more to it than that. Beyond the fact that driving means getting older, taking care of a car and expenses can show parents that a teen is growing up.

Since Tameika bought that symbol, she has experienced a further lesson in adulthood.

Reality hit when expenses that she hadn't considered added up. Temporary tags cost $125, inspection is $45, and insurance is $80 per month. Before the car can pass inspection, Tameika knows she'll have to get a ragged dent and a back light fixed. There also are a few minor dings, and she wants to have them repaired.


"I like to drive in style," she says.

Tameika says she'll be using all her checks from her part-time job at the Boys and Girls Club of Washington County to maintain her vehicle.

That's an adult approach, and Tameika is confident it's the right choice.

She says one of the reasons she makes good choices is that her mother is "nowhere near strict."

"She lets me have my freedom."

Tameika's mother, Jackie Ballard, says, "Strictness doesn't always work." It can push kids away - not bring them closer, she adds.

Although she acknowledges her daughter has had some normal teenage attitude changes, Ballard says she's been blessed that Tameika is responsible.

But that hasn't stopped Ballard from talking, and talking, and talking, she admits, about choices and priorities - education and career.

Although they don't do it as often as they used to, Ballard and her children - Tameika is the oldest of four - have "rap sessions."

They talk about all kinds of things - smoking, sex, birth control. The agreement is there will be no punishment for anything the kids say they have done.

Ballard wants her kids to be able to feel comfortable discussing anything with her - to call her whenever with whatever. If they make a mistake, she wants to be there to help them correct it.

The kids know they will hear "the lecture," Tameika says.

"I'm going to say what I have to say," Ballard laughs.

Tameika knows she will have to face the consequences of mistakes she makes - like a grown-up.

Eric Rollins, 16, also works part time at the Boys and Girls Club. Tameika coordinates the Street Smarts and Smart Girls programs; Eric helps to coordinate the Character Counts program.

Like Tameika, Eric has his own wheels. His father bought him his SUV last fall, but he takes care of insurance - $125 per month - and other expenses he hadn't counted on when he was excited about having a vehicle. Like Tameika, he'll be taking classes at HCC while finishing his senior year at North High.

Although he laughs that his parents always call him and say to bring the car home if it's raining, Eric feels his parents trust him. Going to the club when he was younger, and now working with kids, helps him, he says. He likes being on his own.

"I've always got to be on my toes," Eric says. He feels a responsibility to be a good role model.

Responsibility is something Eric talks about with youth in the Character Counts program he helps coordinate at the club.

For example, club summer campers will be responsible for keeping their rooms clean at Fairview Outdoor Education Center, north of Clear Spring, where they'll spend a week, Eric says, and they have regular responsibilities year-round at the club.

"Appropriate responsibility," explains Buck Browning, director of operations at Boys and Girls Club of Washington County.

"Our whole role is to empower the kids," he adds.

In planning activities and outings, the kids' interests and ideas are considered. Their influence is part of the deal.

One of the club's goals is competence. Kids are taught how to perform tasks and given the freedom to accomplish them. For example, a young teen is making photocopies. She'd be really frustrated if she hadn't been shown how to operate the machine, but she had learned and easily completed the task.

Making photocopies may not seem like a big deal.

"It's the little things," Browning says.

But if you make 100 little decisions, when it comes to a big one, you've had all the practice you need to make a good choice, he adds.

Tameika says she doesn't have a curfew. She laughs that she doesn't stay out or stay up late.

"I've always encouraged her to be independent and responsible," Ballard says.

And she knows her daughter.

"She's my 9 o'clock girl," Ballard laughs.

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