Sunday, January 9, 2011


You’d think I’d be used to teaching a kid to drive, this being my third time through it (2 sons and a stepdaughter). But I recently learned that the best way for me to be in the car with my teen driver is to let my husband sit in the front seat, with me in the back. I have to promise to keep my head down and not look while we merge onto the freeway. Not that our teen driver is doing so bad, he’s actually doing quite well. The problem is me. I’m a worrier.

There is a lot to be concerned about, though. Car crashes are the number one killers of teens in the United States, so it’s important to know the facts and risks. I thought I’d pull together some resources to both bolster up my arsenal of helpful tools and to also share some tips with other parents of teens out there that are going through it too.

First of all, we have no problem turning over the lessons to a professional instructor and mining outside resources. I need all the help I can get, no matter how good a driver I may be. The good news about a professional is that they don’t have the emotional attachment that could add to the stress of the situation and they have the experience to teach this skill in a calm and efficient way.
But in between lessons and the driver’s license test, though, a lot of hours have to be logged behind the wheel so that we can prepare him to be a proficient driver for his lifetime.

·      Don’t be negative, freak out or have a meltdown. (Sit in the back seat if you have to and have someone else be co-pilot!)
·      Don’t use their time behind the wheel to nag them about other issues like their chores or homework!
·      Don’t allow your teen to take his behind-the-wheel test too soon. It’s always better to wait. Sure, it will be convenient for your teen to have ability to drive themselves to the game practice or the store, but the more supervised experience they have under their belts before being on their own, the safer they will be. And safety should be our number one priority here, not convenience.

·      Decide ahead of time what today’s lesson will be and outline it (like today we’ll be practicing left-hand turns around this specific route).
·      Start small for their first lessons, like in an empty parking lot. Work up to the freeway!
·      Use encouragement and positive reinforcement (point out what they are doing well).
·      Calmly point out when mistakes are made, without shaming or freaking out.
·      Make lots of opportunities to practice (like on errands and extra curricular activities)
·      Set a good example when you are driving. Make conscious choices to remain calm, don’t run yellow lights, always make full stops, stick to the speed limit, wear a seatbelt, show respect to other drivers. It’s important that my teen driver listens as I explain what I’m doing and why, when I’m doing the driving.
·      Use at least one lesson to go over emergency roadside situations, changing a tire, driving in inclement weather, checking the oil and coolant levels, filling with gas and jumpstarting a battery. And we need to have a plan about what to do if the car breaks down or if he’s involved in an accident.
·      Draw up a safe-driving contract with your teen. This would include all your house rules about your car and all the state laws, like wearing a seat belt at all times, refraining from speeding, driving under the influence and talking on the phone or texting while driving. The Automobile Club of America has a great contract (it’s free), as well as other resources for parents of teen drivers.

The most important thing to remember with a teen driver is that we are preparing him or her to go out there in the world and use this 3,000 pound machine in get around in safely and responsibly. But it is not a “right,” it’s a privilege—and it’s important for us to help him understand that. As long as he is a minor, we will allow him to drive under the rules we have set down, after he has completed a driver’s training course and signed a contract with us. It is our job to make sure our teen driver develops an appreciation that driving is a highly complex task for which he needs maturity and judgment.

And in the meantime, I've been relegated to the back seat.