There are many milestones in your child’s life, but turning sixteen and getting a driver’s license is one of the biggest ones. This is a huge moment for parents too because it means that your teenager is growing up and becoming more independent. Teaching your teen to drive is about so much more than just releasing them on the roads though; it also signifies one of the first steps of releasing them toward adulthood.
My son turned sixteen last year and we embarked on the nerve-wracking adventure of teaching him to drive. For a few hours each week, we hit the local roads and I did my best to stay calm and patient. Over the course of our driving adventures, my son learned a lot, like how to merge and always being aware of other drivers, but I learned a lot too.
Honestly, I never imagined that teaching my 16 year old to navigate the roads would teach ME how to better navigate life, but somehow that is exactly what happened. Teaching your teen to drive opens your eyes to so many life lessons. Here are some of the ones that occurred to me while my son and I were cruising along.
Practice makes perfect when teaching your teen to drive
In our state, teenage drivers need to spend at least fifty hours driving with an adult before they can venture out on their own. I know I am going to sound practically ancient here, but many, many years ago, when I turned sixteen, we were given a license and off we went. Of course, most teenagers back then were involved in car accidents at some point, which is why the laws have since changed. We didn’t have the experience or the amount of practice time needed to make sensible decisions on the road.
After this change, called a Graduated Driving License, was enacted in our state, the number of teenage fatalities from car accidents drastically decreased. Kids spent lots of time learning the right way to drive. Also, parents had a first hand view of their teens strengths and weaknesses behind the wheel.
In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell states that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert. So the fifty hours that teens in my state spend driving with their parents are just a drop in the bucket, but it does give them a basic foundation to build upon.
I could see a huge difference in my son’s driving from hour number one to hour number five. By hour number ten, I was feeling fairly confident with his driving skills and less afraid that I would die every time we ventured onto the roads.
In life, practice really does make perfect, but it takes a LOT of practice to get there. Like, 10,000 hours of practice.
Maybe you are striving to excel at the gym, learning the skills for a new job or taking up a hobby. Just remember that practically everyone is terrible the first time they try something, but they learn as they go. Eventually, if you stick with something and practice it enough, you build up your skills and become an expert.
So my advice to you is to commit to the process and put in the hours. Then, watch yourself evolve toward perfection. And remember to learn from others who have more experience and be willing to accept their guidance and their expertise.
Some people only care about themselves
Every day, on roads all over the country, we see people who think they are more important than others. There is the guy who thinks the whole world revolves around him and he can stop in the middle of the road to take a phone call. Or the lady that makes the left turn where it is not allowed. We have all seen the person who cuts across 4 lanes of traffic to exit the highway, right?
These types of people perceive themselves as more important than others (or they are just really stupid). No one, regardless of age, sex, occupation or how much money they have in the bank, is more important than anyone else. And no one should potentially endanger other people because of their selfish decisions.
This is one of the toughest things about teaching your teen to drive. Sure, they can master the basic skills of driving, but your teen also needs to be acutely aware of everyone else and what they are doing at all times.
For some teenagers, they are selfish ones who need to learn to think of everyone else. And for other teenagers, they are the unselfish ones, who cannot fathom that people would behave this way.
In life, we run across self important people, both on and off the road. Recognizing that these types of people exist, learning to watch out for them and hopefully, avoid them, is an important skill to master.
Some rules were meant to be broken when teaching your teen to drive
I am a hard core rule follower, but even I have to admit that some rules are there for a good reason and some rules are meant to be broken.
In driver’s education, teens are taught that when you come to a stop sign, you stop at the solid white line. Period. End of discussion.
Like I said, I am normally all about following the rules. However, sometimes when you stop at the solid white line, you can’t actually see the oncoming traffic. You need to slowly creep past the line until you can clearly see the road and the cars.
My son is a rule follower too and he resisted every time I told him to go past the white line. “The teacher said to stop here, mom. You are going to get me in trouble!”
I had to explain to him over and over, that sometimes, just sometimes, we need to break the rules. And that in some cases, breaking the rules, or at least bending them a little, is the best thing you can do in that situation.
Our lives are full of rules. Some are full stops at the solid white line – no exceptions. And some rules, well they are meant to be broken.
This brings me to my next point.
Learn to adapt and be flexible when teaching your teen to drive
Learning to be flexible and adapt to situations is a valuable life skill. If I tell my son to make a right at the light, but there is a disabled car blocking his path, I need him to have the confidence in his abilities to change course. He should be able to access the situation and (maybe) break the rules a little if needed.
Likewise, in our lives, we can be on a set course and then suddenly, an obstacle is in our way. If you can’t plow through it, you need to learn to make adjustments and go around it.
Be confident in yourself and the decisions you make. Don’t be afraid to take a detour in life. It will still get you to the end destination and the scenery might be better along the way.
Take responsibility for your actions
I remember a client of mine telling me a story about a car accident she was involved in. She made a left hand turn in front of someone and was broadsided by a car that was going straight.
That seems cut and dry, right? But she blamed the other car because, according to her, they were speeding. She took absolutely no responsibility for her role in the accident.
If she had waited to make the turn, the other car wouldn’t have hit her. In her anger and frustration, she was looking for someone else to blame.
I feel like we see situations like this far too often. If someone doesn’t get promoted at work, it is their boss’ fault and has nothing to do with their performance. If your kid fails a test, it is because the teacher doesn’t like them and not because they didn’t study.
In life, we need to face up to our actions, both good and bad. Don’t be afraid to own your mistakes. Take responsibility for your own actions and stop blaming others for your failures.
Yes, it is a humbling experience and it certainly doesn’t feel good. However, this is how we learn and grow as people. And when your children see you take responsibility for your actions, they learn to do it too.
See the big picture
When my husband and I were teaching our son to drive, we tried to impress upon him that in his mind, he always needed to be at least two steps ahead of his current location. We taught him that he should be scanning the road ahead for potential issues and be aware of the cars around him.
Instead of focusing on simply the next turn or the next light, he should have a big picture of where he is going and how is he going to get there. And instead of scanning just the next block, we wanted him to look five or six blocks ahead.
In life, we also need to be scanning ahead. Ideally, you want to have a 30,000 foot view of where you are going and always be looking ahead of where you are currently. There are lots of little steps to get to the end destination, but you need to be looking far ahead. You always need to have a clear vision of where you want to end up and not get bogged down with where you currently are.
Everyone has different skills
I am a whiz at driving a carload of screaming kids and totally tuning them out. But ask me to parallel park my SUV and you will get a blank stare. If my life depended on it, I could possibly do it. If that is not the case, I’ll drive around the block until I can find an easier parking spot.
In life, we all have special skill sets and we should capitalize on our strengths and weaknesses. I always used to try and do everything myself, either to save money or to prove my independence. But I am slowly learning that some people are better equipped to handle certain tasks than I am.
Remember the earlier point about becoming an expert? If I am not an expert on the subject, I don’t want to learn about it, it brings me no joy and I can afford to outsource it, I’m passing it off to someone else.
Treasure every moment when teaching your teen to drive
My daughter said I had to add this one because my son almost killed us a few times while he was driving. She is definitely exaggerating, but this is still a life lesson that I want to talk about here.
It feels cliched, but I agree that you should treasure every moment. As we all know, life is fleeting and things change in the blink of an eye.
You should also treasure every moment with your teen because the time is passing so quickly. I have thoroughly enjoyed the one on one time with my son and getting to know more about him, his thoughts and his plans for the future.
I keep catching glimpses of the man my son will become and it makes me both proud and terrified at the same time. Knowing that he will be leaving for college in a few short years makes me appreciate even more the time we have together now.
Giving up control is scary when teaching your teen to drive
My son is not a bad driver, but his driving still scares me. I’m the crazy mom who is always grasping for the door handle. And I’m pretty sure that I have worn a hole in the floor from constantly trying to push the non-existent brake.
After some reflection, I realized that it is not actually his driving that scares me; it is relinquishing control. I have always been the one calling the shots in his life. Now, he is coming into his own and doing adult things, like driving and looking for his first job.
As much as I hate it and it scares me, I understand that I have to give up my control. It’s time to let my son literally and figuratively take the wheel. So I have spent a lot of time biting my tongue and letting him figure things out on his own.
In the end, I have to teach my children what I know and then hope that I have done a good enough job to let them go on their own. I won’t always be there to guide their lives and save them from danger. So I have to relinquish control and know that my children can handle any situation, even when mom isn’t there.
I have two younger children who will eventually be learning to drive so I imagine there are many more life lessons in my future. For now, I’m going to enjoy the time with son and take advantage of having someone else in the house to run errands.
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