Teaching your teenager to drive is a significant milestone that requires patience, communication, and a focus on safety. It can also really stress you out. Here are some valuable tips that may help you stay calm and your teen learn better — which is a win-win for everyone.
- Consider Getting A New Driver Magnet. Placing a “New Driver” magnet or sticker on the back of your car serves as a subtle reminder to other drivers to be patient and cautious around your teen. I wish I’d done this when teaching my son to drive last year. It may have saved us a few embarrassing honks.
- Every Teen Learns At A Different Pace. Remember that no two teens learn the same way or at the same pace, so even if you’ve done this before with another child, it might be an entirely new experience the second time around. Be patient and adapt your teaching approach to your teen’s needs and comfort level.
- Remember That They’ve Likely Never Paid Attention To Your Driving Before. Your teenager may have ridden in the car with you for years without paying much attention to your driving habits. If they’re anything like mine, they’ve probably had their nose in their phone or their earbuds in, listening to music. Take the time to explain the rules of the road, your decision-making process, and the importance of defensive driving before you get in the car.
- Start in Parking Lots. Beginning with low-pressure environments like empty parking lots can take a lot of pressure off both of you. This allows your teen to get comfortable behind the wheel without the stress of traffic. Practice basic maneuvers such as parking, turning, and braking a few times before having them get on an actual road with real drivers.
- Driving School Can Only Do So Much. While driving school provides valuable instruction, they’re going to need more practice than that. Supplement their learning by practicing with your teen regularly. In the early days of learning to drive, my son and I went out on Sunday mornings, when there were fewer cars on the road. It helped him feel comfortable being on major roads and even highways without tons of traffic. Reinforce what they’ve learned in driving school and address any specific concerns they may have.
- Minimize Distractions. Emphasize the importance of focusing solely on driving when they’re behind the wheel. My son wanted his favorite tunes on all the time, but it became too much of a distraction, so I made it a rule that we had to focus solely on driving, at least for a while. At the end of his full year of practice, I allowed him to play or change the music only during red lights, so he wouldn’t get used to doing it while driving. Encourage them to keep the music at a reasonable volume both for their sake and that of other drivers who probably don’t share the same taste in music. Most importantly, stress the dangers of texting or using their phone while driving.
- Think About Which Parent Is Best Suited For The Task. One parent may be more comfortable or skilled at teaching driving than the other. It’s okay to divide responsibilities. One parent can handle the initial lessons, while the other can take over as the teen gains more experience. I ended up doing most of the teaching myself because my schedule was more flexible than his dad’s, but the few times he went out with him, he came back noting the differences between us. It’s good for kids to get different perspectives on driving because they’ll be on the road with all kinds of drivers.
- Lead by Example. Once I started teaching my son to drive, it became even more clear that I needed to model good behavior, which meant obeying all traffic laws (no cheating) and avoiding aggressive or distracted driving behaviors.
- Give Regular Feedback. My son hated this part because no one likes criticism, but providing constructive feedback after each driving session allowed me to highlight what went well and areas that needed improvement, so we had a goal set for next time. Keep the communication lines open so your teen feels comfortable asking questions or seeking guidance.
- Review What To Do In Emergency Situations. Teach your teen how to handle emergencies, such as a tire blowout or brake failure. Discuss what to do in case of an accident and the importance of remaining calm. I didn’t even think of this until my son already had his driver’s license, which was a miss on my part. Knowing what to do in unexpected situations is key to handling them well, so don’t do what I did and cover this during your practice drives.
- Try To Stay Calm: Finally, remain patient and calm during the teaching process, which is not easy, especially when teaching teens who think they already know everything. Your teen will make lots of mistakes, but it’s all part of the learning curve. Offer encouragement and remind them that practice leads to improvement.
Teaching your teenager to drive is a significant responsibility, but with careful guidance and a focus on safety, you can help them become a responsible and confident driver.
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