10 Tips for Surviving Your Teen Learning to Drive

learning to driveWhen my kids were small, I was under the impression that once I cleared the hurdles of childbirth -- and maybe potty training -- I would pretty much be home free. I thought having kids who could feed themselves, sleep eight hours a night, and get to the toilet when necessary was the ticket to easy living.

Or so I thought.

But when I slid into the passenger seat of my SUV while my 16-year-old son got behind the wheel, I learned that potty training was for amateurs. Teaching your teenager to drive is not for the faint of heart.

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As with childbirth (when I ate a full prime rib dinner while in labor) and potty training (when I left a full potty unattended with a dog nearby), I made some rookie mistakes the first time around. I gasped a lot. I often covered my head and went into a defensive crouch expecting imminent impact.

This behavior does not create a conducive environment for a nervous teenager to master the rules of the road. One nervous person is enough per car.

By the time my third child got behind the wheel, I had calmed down a little. I guess I had gotten used to being driven around by someone I gave birth to and was able to let go ... a little. But there were still some white-knuckle moments, situations I probably could have handled a little better.

Here's what I'm going to focus on when my youngest child starts to drive:

teen driver

  1. Patience really is a virtue. Hitting the curb while practicing parallel parking is par for the course. Don't expect miracles -- like knowing how to merge onto a highway or navigate a four-way stop -- overnight.
  2. Try not to scream. When my daughter plowed through a leaf pile and tore a hole in one of the tires, I tried to keep it together. But instead of calmly instructing her to a safe spot to park, I shouted at her for not listening to me when I told her, repeatedly, to stop hugging the curb. We waited in the dark for the tow truck in silence, instead of using the very teachable moment to improve her driving skills.  
  3. Prayer can help. One friend told me that her daughter learned to drive around the same time she was taking her ailing father to church daily. So she made the most of it -- and prayed!
  4. Practice, Practice, Practice. Being a safe driver is not a skill kids are born with, like being great at math or a really fast runner. It's something that needs to be learned. AAA recommends new drivers rack up 100 hours of supervised practice before driving solo. Start out on quiet sidestreets, then vary the types of roadways, working in busier highways and parking lots as your driver improves. Don't forget to introduce your teen to driving at night and in inclement weather -- even snow.
  5. Keep your eye on the prize. Try to focus on all the good that will come when your teen is finally a licensed driver. No more running out to get them back-and-forth to soccer practice or the movies. You'lll have your very own, in-house designated driver (it's like Uber but you don’t have to pay).
  6. Set a good example. We can say anything we want but the stuff the kids really pay attention to is the stuff we parents do. Show your teen what it means to be a good driver. Don't talk or text while you’re behind the wheel. Wear a seat belt. Follow speed limits. Your little sponge will be sitting alongside you, soaking all those good habits in.
  7. Make sure they know the rules in your state. Many states have special rules and restrictions for new drivers -- from the number and ages of passengers allowed in the car to hours they're restricted from driving.
  8. It’s not all about parallel parking. While definitely challenging, there are a lot more subtle driving skills you might want to focus on, like watching for brake lights ahead and learning to merge onto highways and change lanes.
  9. The imaginary brake will never work. No matter how frantically you try to pump it, that brake every parent wishes would magically appear on the floor of the passenger seat just doesn’t exist.
  10. When all else fails, call in the experts. All three of my kids ended up getting a lot of their practice hours in with licensed car instructors. I figured they’d probably roll their eyes less at a stranger and actually listen to what they were told. And I already had enough gray hairs.

How did you teach your teen to drive?

Written by Amy Byrnes, a single mother of four, who's afraid of tuna fish, math, and teenagers (not necessarily in that order) but hearts zombies.

Image © iStock.com/YinYang; © iStock.com/bluestocking    

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