Do you have a teen that’s about to start driving? Yikes! Scary thought! When your “little boy” or “little girl” starts driving, it changes everything. Suddenly they aren’t so little anymore! Learning to drive is a right of passage and for most teenagers, it is one of the most defining moments of their life (at least up to this point in their life). You as a parent might feel torn. You feel a huge relief from having to be a daily chauffeur but you also fear for your teenagers driving safety and newfound freedom. This is a very emotional time for everyone involved, especially when it’s time to sit in the passenger seat as a brand new driver gets behind the wheel – your son or daughter!
Finding An Emotional Balance
As a professional driving instructor, I learned very quickly that in order to teach someone how to drive effectively, you must keep control of your emotions. If you’re acting like you’re terrified, your going to make your kid terrified! You may be nervous, but don’t let your son or daughter know that. Gather your composure and act like this is a walk in the park.
Before you even get into the car, you should ask your son or daughter how they feel. Are they nervous? Scared? Excited? Try to relieve their fears before you go driving.
Go Over The Ground Rules
A great way to help achieve a “zen” state of mind is to go over the ground rules before your driving lessons begin. It’s important to be on the same page. Here are some pointers and basic ground rules you should go over with your teen before you start:
- Stop means stop! Make sure that you as an instructor only use the word “stop” if you truly mean stop (as in, right now!). Make sure your student driver understands that when you say stop, they must stop immediately and ask questions later. Let them know ahead of time that you might be appearing to yell at them during the lesson because you might raise your voice, but it’s simply a reaction and nothing personal. Tell them this up front so they know what to expect.
- Communicating while behind the wheel is hard! Let your teen know that communicating can be tough while in a moving vehicle, especially while first learning and getting the coordination down. However, they still need to listen to you and discuss disagreements later, not while driving. This is a very common situation. You’ll tell your teen to do something that doesn’t make sense to them and an argument ensues. Let them know that all disagreements will be discussed later.
- Start small and build up. Let your teen know that you’re going to start off cruising around the neighborhood or on low traffic routes and go from there. Allow your teen to be part of that decision making. While you are the ultimate decider here, allow them to dictate if they are ready to move on, or if they feel they need more practice on the smaller roads. This website has a great series of free driving lessons.
- Allow for a learning curve. Your teen will want to be perfect right away. But tell them there is a learning curve. They will make embarrassing mistakes, they will hit the gas or brake too hard, they will overreact, etc. Let them know you expect it and that’s ok! With time, they will get better.
The First Driving Lesson
Your first lesson should be quick. Let your teen know that before you start so they aren’t disappointed when the lesson abruptly ends. Even when I was an instructor teaching new truck drivers, all we did on the first day was drive forward and backward at idle speeds. The best thing to do is find a large and empty parking lot. Sometimes, industrial parks are good on weekends if there is no traffic. Here are the main things you want to teach on the first day:
- Before doing anything, show your teen how the seat, pedal, and steering wheel adjustments work.
- Allow them some time to get comfortable and make sure they can reach the pedals ok.
- Show them how to properly adjust their mirrors.
- Get them familiar with the dash, all of the controls, and what different lights mean.
- Drive at very slow speeds for a few minutes.
Building Confidence And Increasing The Difficulty
Maybe that first day, your teen is doing really well and you feel comfortable. You can always make the lesson longer and I doubt your teen will complain about that! No matter when you continue, once your teens driving becomes smoother and they get the feel of how the car handles, it’s time to move on. If they don’t feel ready, give them some more time to experiment. Some teenagers may need a “push” to challenge themselves and go beyond their comfort zone while others will want to move along too quickly. You know your teen best – you set the pace.
Following Through Even After They Get Their License
Now, you may feel slightly relieved after your teen received their license. But your job doesn’t stop there. Even after passing the official driving test, your teen is now legally allowed to drive independently.
However, some states have restrictions on 17-year-old drivers. And even if your state doesn’t implement this, your teen will still need your guidance until they can confidently say that they can drive on their own.
As his or her parent, you would like to ensure that your teen is already comfortable with their driving skill – just enough to give them the confidence that they’ll need.
Yeah, teens won’t like this approach as it may seem somewhat to be overprotective.
But still, giving them plenty of time to practice under your guidance will provide the necessary experience that they’ll need to be able to drive independently, especially after restrictions have been lifted from their license.
I bet they’ll appreciate your time and effort later on when they’re on their own.
And by the way, you might also want to take this opportunity to further instill in your teen’s head the ground rules you’ve set early on during practice.
Don’t hesitate to take the time to talk to them and emphasize the dangers associated with driving. Pay special attention to distractions which are the common causes of accidents involving teens nowadays, especially things associated with using their mobile phones while on the road.
One thing to keep in mind though – try to be friendly and conversational when sharing tips – use your past experiences to illustrate your point. Sounding too preachy may irritate your teen and you don’t want to ruin the trust between you two at this point.
You don’t need to be an expert. Just be yourself and tell them honestly what you think as a driver yourself – not so much as a parent.