Teaching your teen to drive is a lot like potty training. Some kids catch on quickly and some seem to take forever to get the hang of it. Some teens are eager to learn and some couldn’t care less. But eventually, they all get the hang of it.
When my oldest turned sixteen, I was thrilled for him. My husband and I made a big deal about going to get his driver’s license. We asked every day about Driver’s Education and helped him study for the final exam. And then, he was done and the real life practice was up to us.
I’ll admit it, I was scared to death to get in the car with him. Sure, he knew the basics, but he was severely lacking in experience, foresight and common sense. So my husband and I set out to teach him everything we knew about driving.
In our state, new drivers need fifty hours of practice with an experienced driver before they can venture out on their own. Fifty hours seemed like a lot, but after spending some time in the passenger seat, I understand why this law was put in place.
Back in my day . . .
I realize this makes me sound old, but back when I learned to drive (circa 1993), things were very different. My parents took me to the DMV to get my license and drove with me a few times. And then I was on my own, which was not necessarily a good thing.
Practically everyone I knew was in a car accident during high school. Most were minor, some involved serious injuries and a couple were fatal accidents. This is precisely why the laws regarding teenage driving have changed since I was a teenager.
Teenage Driver Statistics
According to the CDC, car accidents are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States. Roughly six teenagers die every day and teens are three times more likely to be in a car crash than adults 20 years of age and older.
The first few months of driving are particularly high risk. Other things that increase the chances of a motor vehicle accident are riding with passengers, speeding, distracted or impaired driving and inexperience.
To combat this, many states have put restrictions on new drivers. Depending on where you live, your teenager may have to drive a minimum number of hours with you. They might only be able to drive certain hours of the day or with a limited number of passengers in the car.
So how do you make the most of your time in the car with your teen? What are the things you absolutely must teach them? How do you do it safely and without losing your mind? What should you do (and not do) when teaching your teen to drive?
How to teach your teen to drive
I’ll admit it, I was lost when it was time to hit the road. Driver’s Education had taught my son the basics, but I knew he still had a lot to learn.
Were we supposed to just randomly drive around town? Was there a checklist telling me exactly what we should cover?
I am a total list-lover and since I couldn’t find a comprehensive list, I researched and made my own. You can get a copy of it by clicking the link below.
A list of skills to cover is a great start, but there are other things you need to know before venturing out on the roads with your teenager. Here is my best advice to help you teach your teen to drive without losing your mind.
The basics of teaching your teen to drive
These tips might seem like common sense, but I wanted to include everything I could think of that might help.
Start out slow and gradually work up to more difficult situations. For your teen’s first time behind the wheel, stick to an empty parking lot. Then, you can move to quiet residential streets, rural roads and eventually city and highway driving. The first few lessons could be early on a weekend morning and then slowly move toward more congested times of day.
If your family has more than one vehicle, let your teen drive both. For example, we have a mid-size sedan and a big, clunky SUV. Our son learned to drive on both cars to teach him that different vehicles handle differently.
When you are teaching your teen to drive, two heads (or three or four) are better than one. My husband and I have different teaching styles and our son benefited from that. If you have multiple adults in your life who are willing to pitch in, take advantage of it to give your teen a well rounded experience.
Make a point to practice regularly. Try to take your teen driving a couple of times a week. Regular practice will help build their skill set faster.
Drive in a variety of conditions. Your teen should start driving during daytime hours, but they will need practice at night too. if you live in an area that gets snow or lots of rain, they will need experience driving in those conditions too.
The emotional side of teaching your teen to drive
The number one rule of teaching your teen to drive is to stay calm. I know you might be freaking out inside, but if you gasp loudly or yell, most teenagers react poorly. Plus, it makes them nervous and more likely to make mistakes if you are constantly shrieking at them.
Another tip to make the experience go smoother is to work with their personality. If your teen is eager to practice, go ahead and jump right in. If your teen is scared to drive, take it slow and let them get more comfortable.
With teenagers, timing is everything so try to catch them at the right moment. If they are overly tired from staying up late, it’s not a good idea to take them driving. If they just broke up with their boyfriend or are caught up in friend drama, wait until they can safely focus on the road.
Positive reinforcement is the way to go. I have found that when you focus on the positive, more positive things happen. When I tell my son how well he is doing, he gains confidence and drives even better. Of course, I still talk to him about what he needs to correct, but I say something positive first and then calmly discuss the area that needs work.
Save the intense conversations for another time. Teenagers need to concentrate while they are learning to drive, so skip the lectures about their grades or girlfriend for now. Let them focus on the road and talk about the other stuff later.
More advanced tips
We go over the ground rules every time we drive. They are simple; go when I tell you to go and stop when I tell you to stop. No hesitation and no questions. I tell my son, “If you don’t agree or want to question it, we can discuss it AFTER the moment has passed.” Even as he gained experience, I would say, “Tell me when you think you can pull out into traffic and do not go until I agree”. This one tip helped my mental sanity a ton because I didn’t have to worry so much about him making inexperienced decisions.
Teenagers need extra time to process information while they are driving so give them advanced notice when you want them to turn. If you wait until you are almost at the turn lane, they will most likely panic and miss the turn.
Involve your teenager in the learning process by asking them what they want to work on that day. My son surprised me when he said he would rather practice parking than driving on the roads one day, but he was absolutely right – he DID need to work on his parking skills.
Instead of telling your teen everything, ask them questions instead. It’s better to say, “How fast are you going?” rather than, “Slow down. You’re going too fast.” Instead of saying, “You are too close to the shoulder.” ask them, “How is your spacing in the lane?” Asking questions lets your teen think critically for themselves and feel in control.
Make sure to discuss possible scenarios and what to do while driving. For example, ask your teen, “What would you do if a deer jumped out in the road?” “How would you react if a tire went off the road?” “What would you do if this road was flooded?”
A few more pieces of advice
I am a huge fan of in-person (not online) Defensive Driving Courses. Your teen can be a perfect driver, but there are still other, careless people on the roads with them. A good defensive driving class will not only reinforce the rules of the road, but give them valuable insight into other driver’s behaviors and what to watch out for while driving.
Prepare your mind for “oops” moments. Everyone makes mistakes when they are learning to drive. Your teen will most likely hit a curb at some point or park too close to another car. Use these as teaching moments instead of making your teen feel bad about their skills.
Even when YOU are the one driving, it can still be a teachable moment. Make sure to set a good example and talk to your teen if they are in the car with you. Ask them things like, “Did you see what I did in that situation? Why do you think I did that?”
We survived teaching our teen to drive
After many, many hours spent cruising the local roadways, our son became a pretty good driver. And to be honest, I enjoyed spending all the alone time with him and learned some new things about life myself. Now we only have to survive it it two more times when our daughter and younger son learn to drive!
If you have other tips or tricks that worked well for you, feel free to comment below!
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