“Can I drive?” may not be a phrase you are ready to hear when your teenager is old enough to get his or her driver’s permit. In fact, it may be difficult to come to terms with the fact that your child who was once buckled up in a car seat is now old enough to be behind the wheel. The reality is that your baby is no longer a baby anymore and is suddenly tasked with the big responsibility of being a driver, all while you are thrown from the driver’s seat to the passenger’s seat.
Learning how to adjust to this rite of passage is simultaneously exciting and scary for both of you. In order for a teen to successfully and safely learn how to drive, parents have to let go of the wheel and practice patience, trust and cooperation, according to Kim Estes, child safety expert and founder of Savvy Parents Safe Kids.
“Driving is one of the biggest risks and leaps parents encounter with teens and also requires the biggest amount of trust from parents,” she says. “Collaboration, communication and taking the criticism down about 10 notches can help the parent-teen relationship during this time.”
Prepping Your Child and Yourself
It is likely your teen has access to a driver’s education course within the community or at school. However, driving is a hands-on activity and your child needs your guidance. Before backing out of the driveway, have a discussion with your teen about her concerns about driving, recommends Estes.
“When my daughter began driving, we talked ahead of time about what made her nervous, such as certain intersections or my tone when instructing her,” she says. “Once we were clear about fears and expectations ahead of time, it took some of the edge off for both of us.”
A review of the rules of the road may also help both of you prepare for daily cruises through the neighborhood. According to the All State Foundation, parents should begin talking about safe driving well before a teen applies for a driver’s permit. “Parents should begin a conversation by the junior high years and maintain an ongoing dialogue,” suggest the experts at All State. “Tee it up as a discussion, not a lecture.”
While reviewing your state’s road rules, such as speed limits, intersection protocols and phone usage guidelines, you have the opportunity to sharpen your own driving knowledge and educate your teen. Talk to your teen about driving situations while you are experiencing them, says Estes. “As you are about to change lanes, talk to your teen about the three things you should do before changing lanes,” she says.
Set an Example
Whether you realize it or not, your teen is watching your every move. Set the example as a safe driver to not only educate your child but also improve your own driving abilities. “Don’t do things while driving that you don’t want your children to do, such as texting, driving aggressive or running yellow lights,” says Estes.
It may also help your teen learn if you encourage him or her to observe, offer suggestions and ask questions about your driving. Don’t be defensive during the process, though, advises Estes. “If your driving relationship with each other has more of a collaborative feel to it, the more likely your teen is to follow your lead, ask questions and hopefully take less driving risks,” she says.
Even though driving with your teen may make you nervous or anxious, it’s important to calm your own emotions so you don’t inadvertently transfer those feelings to your child while she’s driving.
“Take a stress ball with you if you think you are going to be stressed,” suggests Estes. “Holding on to your seat or the dashboard with a death grip does nothing to instill calm or confidence in your teen driver.”
Keep criticism to a minimum, too. Instead of shouting “you are going too fast,” ask your teen open-ended questions, such as “Can you tell me what the posted speed limit is in this area?” A sharp or sarcastic tone may belittle your teen, who is most likely doing her best to obey the law and improve her skills.
If nervousness takes over, Estes suggests asking a trusted friend or family member to take your teen driving at first. “This helped me ease up a little since I knew it was not her actual first time behind the wheel,” she says.
If you are concerned about your teen’s ability to navigate complex intersections or highways while driving, take it slow. Take the road less traveled the first few times to help calm both of you.