Teaching Your Teen How to Drive: Tips For Parents

Although milestones like college graduations and weddings have been interrupted thanks to the pandemic, nothing will stop your child from growing older each year. And while that might bring about strong emotions for you as a parent, it’s likely that if you have a teenager, they can’t wait to experience a bit of freedom. As your kiddo celebrates their 15th, 16th, or 17th birthday, their focus may be on the opportunity to get out on the open road. But before they do, they’ll need to learn how to drive.

That’s where you come in. Although many teenagers sign up for drivers’ education courses or enroll in private lessons through a driving school, you may be more inclined to teach your teen yourself. If you are, you’ll want to have a plan that will keep everyone safe (and sane). Here are just a few tips to keep in mind.

Don’t Rush the Process

Don’t expect your teen to master driving a vehicle in a few weeks (or even a few months). After your teen obtains their permit, they may need at least 50 hours of supervised experience behind the wheel in order to even take their driver’s test. However, it’s recommended that you budget time for double that amount if you really want your teen to be able to make smart decisions while behind the wheel. Teenagers are in the highest-risk group for accidents, but having ample experience can lower their risk. Don’t operate under a time crunch; instead, set realistic expectations for both yourself and your teen so that you’ll schedule their test based on how prepared they truly are and not how many months have passed. This will allow young drivers to experience a variety of real-life scenarios and, with your guidance, react to them as they should. Since 1,235,145 accidents per year involve some kind of hazardous weather, removing the rush will allow your teen to get used to driving in rain, snow, or low-visibility conditions with you right beside them.

Brush Up On Your Own Skills

This is a good opportunity for you to refamiliarize yourself with best practices and pertinent laws. Doing so can help you to set a good example for your teen and ensure they pass their test. Many drivers will follow cars in front of them too closely or travel above the speed limit, even though these behaviors can be dangerous. In fact, around 86% of drivers think it’s safe to drive at least 10 miles per hour over the speed limit on highways. If you’re one of those drivers, you can reasonably expect that your teen may emulate your own behavior when they’re the one in the driver’s seat. In that same vein, you shouldn’t eat or use electronic devices when you’re driving. You should always use your seatbelt, check your mirrors, and obey all traffic laws (whether or not your teen is in the car!). It’s a good idea to get your hands on a copy of your state’s driver’s manual, as well. Because traffic laws are changing all the time, this can help you identify the gaps in your own knowledge and the bad habits you may have picked up in all your years on the road. The more you know, the more you can pass onto your teen — and be assured that what you tell them is legal and safe.

Be Clear, Not Reactive

Once your teen gets behind the wheel, your anxiety may get the better of you. That’s natural, as you’re probably worried about the safety of everyone involved (as well as the state of your vehicle). However, you need to do everything you can to take your emotions out of the equation and to stay calm. Nervousness and anger have no place in a driving lesson. Be careful not to swear or yell at your child — and any directions you give should be clear and even-keeled. If you’ve found that lessons often end in tears and near-accidents, you may need to reconsider your arrangement. Ultimately, you want your teen to feel safe and confident behind the wheel, rather than distracted by their emotions. There’s no shame in enlisting another family member or a driving school teacher to help your teen if no progress is being made. This isn’t a reflection on you or your teen. Put your ego and your feelings aside in order to make the decision that will result in the best outcome for everyone.

Make a Pre-Test Checklist

It’s a good idea to create a checklist (or use an existing one from a driver’s education program) that outlines all of the skills your teen should master prior to taking their test. As you go, check off those skills — but remember to revisit them often so that they stay fresh. Don’t leave more complicated maneuvers for right before they take their test, either. Since drivers spend an average of 17 hours a year searching for parking spots, it’s a good idea to teach them parallel parking and K-turns as soon as you feel they’re able to take those on those concepts. Once they’ve mastered the beginner skills (like turning, braking, accelerating, moving through intersections, determining the right of way, lane changes, maintaining speed, scanning for hazards, and more), you can move on to driving on highways and more advanced skills (like merging, passing, checking blind spots, and driving near large vehicles). While that checklist might seem a little overwhelming at first, it can show your teen just what a huge responsibility this is while providing them with a sense of structure and actionable goals.

Teaching a teenager to drive is never going to be an easy task. But with these tips in mind, both parents and teens may feel less overwhelmed by the process and more determined to facilitate a positive and safe outcome.

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