Teaching a teenager to drive may be one of the most stressful situations you encounter. Even the parent who has absolute faith in their child’s abilities as a student, athlete, or artist, will find themselves questioning their teen’s readiness to drive. It’s unlikely that you’ll manage to get through it completely stress-free, but there are ways to reduce the stress. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you put your “driving instructor” hat on.
Brush Up Your Own Driving Skills
In the years since you yourself learned how to drive, you’ve likely forgotten a thing or two. Furthermore, traffic laws are continually changing and being updated, and the same goes for vehicle equipment and features. Read through your state’s Driver Handbook, or enroll in a personal enrichment traffic safety course to make sure your knowledge is up to date. You will undoubtedly learn something new, and you’ll save yourself from having to admit you don’t know the answer to certain challenging questions your teen might ask. Your teen looks to you as an example, and you’ll want to impress upon them the importance of knowing what the rules are, and what to do, in different driving situations. As we all know, “ignorance is no excuse”.
Even when you’re the one behind the wheel and they are in the passenger seat, you are teaching them how to drive, whether you realize it or not. Be prepared to explain how or why you’ve done things. This can catch you off guard when you’re on “auto pilot” rather than consciously thinking about what you’re doing. During this impressionable time, be vigilant in adhering to all traffic laws and safe driving procedures. Your teen will be watching you, and if you become careless or lazy, they’ll cite this as reasoning for themselves to do the same.
Get Help From the Experts
Some states require that teens take a Driver’s Ed course before getting their permit or learner’s license, and other’s don’t — but even if you live in a state that doesn’t require Driver’s Ed, it’s still a good idea to enroll your teen before letting them get behind the wheel. Learning about the rules of the road and basic driving procedures provides a solid foundation and promotes mindfulness of safe driving practices. Your teen will be better prepared to handle unusual or dangerous situations, as well as the everyday ones. The ability to take a Driver’s Ed course online is an appealing option, not only because your teen can complete the coursework around their busy schedule, but also because studies have shown that students who receive online education perform better than those who were taught the same curriculum in a classroom setting.
Mentally Prepare for Each Next Phase
The natural progression will be to start in an empty parking lot, then move to quiet neighborhood streets, and then on to more increasingly challenging and higher-traffic areas. The need to protect and shelter your child can be a strong deterrent to putting them in traffic situations with an element of risk, but this is a necessity in learning how to drive. It is imperative that they learn how to control the vehicle in the numerous and varied high-risk traffic environments that they will encounter after they receive their license.
As you think about the next location for your driving lessons, go over the potential hazards and problem areas in your mind. Think about how you would handle each as a driver, and how you would assist your teen from the passenger seat. This should be ongoing. As your teen drives, keep an eye on the mirrors and look far down the road. Anticipate possible scenarios, and plan what you would do to respond to them.
Remain Calm — At Least, Outwardly
A calm attitude can go a long way towards the effectiveness of your driving instruction. You’ll need to remain alert to absolutely everything in the driving environment, but when the unexpected occurs, maintain your composure. If you suddenly exclaim, grip your seat, or reach for the roof handle, it could cause your teen to panic and react with a dangerous driving error. Their first instinct might be to slam on the brakes, which could mean trouble for anyone following behind.
Watch your tone of voice. If you shriek a warning at them, or bellow a command, they are now paying attention to you and not the road. Be assertive in pointing out any potential problems, but do so in a calm manner, and firmly correct any mistakes they make. It should go without saying that shouting, berating, and demeaning your teen will make for a traumatic experience, and a very nervous new driver.
Coping With Loss of Control
Regardless of personality type, we all enjoy a certain amount of control when driving a vehicle. If you’re known to be a back seat driver, you’ll need to work especially hard to curb those feelings while teaching your teen how to drive. Though you’ll be advising them throughout the process, it's important that you make them feel that they are the one in control of the vehicle, and that they understand the responsibility of that control. There’s only so much you can do from the passenger’s seat. To soothe some your anxiety, take an inventory of the things you can control, or at the very least, the things you can effect. This includes responsibilities such as vehicle maintenance, limiting distractions, and pointing out roadway hazards.
Your Physical and Mental State
To create a positive learning experience, both you and your teen should be physically and mentally prepared for the driving lesson. Don’t go into the lesson hungry, angry, sad, or otherwise emotional. Remember to stay hydrated, and above all, do not conduct driving practice when either of you are fatigued. Get plenty of sleep beforehand, and remember that fatigue causes severe driver impairment — drowsy drivers can be as dangerous as drunk drivers.
Remember to Use Positive Reinforcement
Driving is an inherently dangerous activity, and its all too easy to become solely focused on the mistakes, close calls, and lack of technique that are all a normal part of learning to drive. Remember to encourage your teen when they demonstrate safe, courteous driving behaviors. When they take note of new or unusual circumstances, or they ask questions, remain positive in your responses. Give them the benefit of your driving experience, and help them to develop their own safe driving habits. Remember, there was a time when you were a new driver, and it took a long time to develop the instincts and judgement you have now. You’ll see more progress and better judgement from them the more you emphasize and encourage safe driving behaviors.