I swear I feel like she was in diapers yesterday, but the truth is, my daughter Marley hit that milestone moment recently. She’s a licensed driver! Here in Georgia, at the age of 15, teens can get a learner’s permit. We did a lot of work in anticipation for the “magic moment” where I handed her the keys to my car (Did I mention it’s my brand new 2018 Ford Escape keys??? The one I just bought in December?? Yea.) I know having a teenage driver in the house can be a little nerve-wracking, so I’m here to offer you a few tips to prepare you & your teen for driving.
I feel the need to offer a disclaimer with this post, so here it goes:
Disclaimer: I am not a professional race car driver, limo driver, Uber driver, or any other driver. I’m a mom who has successfully raised my child to the ripe old age of 15 and am doing my best to make sure she continues to age by teaching her to drive safely and smartly. These are my practical tips that I’m sharing with you today, but your situation may be totally different.
OK, now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on. What I’m not going to share with you today are things like insurance tips or driving tutorials. Instead, I want to focus on the things I’ve learned along the way as a normal mom teaching a (mostly) normal teenager how to handle heavy machinery.
HOW TO PREPARE YOURSELF & YOUR TEEN FOR DRIVING
If you’re a mom (or a dad) reading this, it’s probably because you are a bit nervous or apprehensive about the fact that your spawn is going to be driving a vehicle on a road with other vehicles, and you’re going to have to eventually trust them to do this all by themselves, even though they can’t seem to remember to refill the toilet paper without you reminding them.
Scary, I know.
But, driving is a right of passage. And it’s an important step in teaching your teenager to be responsible for something other than their bedroom. It takes patience, practice, and preparation, both on your part as their parent and on their part as the driver-in-training. So from one mom to another, here are my tips:
TIP #1: CHOOSE A TEACHER
If your house is anything like ours, there is one parent who is a better (read: patient & practical) choice for driving instructor than the other. In our house, that’s my job. In your house, it might be dear old dad.
Have a conversation with your significant other to determine who will be the primary driving instructor in your household. Yes, there will be plenty of opportunities for you to both be present in the vehicle, or for one parent to ride along while the other stays at home. But for the sake of beginning the learning process, try to teach one set of guidelines. This is best achieved if you determine who the primary instructor will be, and you let your child know this as well.
In fact, you can ask them who they feel most comfortable with in the car. Again, in my household, that’s me. My husband, Marley’s stepdad, is an awesome dad, but he’s a bit…how shall I put this…aggressive behind the wheel. (I love you honey, but you’re scary sometimes!)
TIP #2: CHOOSE THE RIGHT VEHICLE
If you have more than one vehicle in your household, try to teach your teen how to drive in the one that’s most reliable and easy to handle. I just recently purchased a 2018 Ford Escape, while my husband drives an older Ford F-150 with a lift kit and big tires. That truck is hard enough for me to drive, so I’m certainly not putting my daughter in it – at least not right away.
She’s comfortable in my car, and it’s easy for her to learn how to handle a car, use the mirrors, merge in traffic, use her blinkers, use the wipers, etc. in my car. If you have a choice, try to take away as much unnecessary difficulty as possible so your teen can focus on the actual learning-to-drive part.
TIP #3: DON’T FORCE IT
My daughter Marley was more than ready to start driving, but I know of several other teens who just don’t care, or are super apprehensive about it. Bottom line: Don’t force it. If you push your child to drive before they are mentally prepared, you are setting them up for failure and frustration.
TIP #4: INTRODUCE THE CAR FIRST, THE ROAD SECOND
If they seem to be a bit afraid of getting behind the wheel, you can ease them into it by taking them into an empty parking lot and letting them drive in circles, just to get a feel for how a car operates. This went a long way towards getting Marley over the fear of the car. We spent many, many hours in the Super Wal-mart parking lot driving around and around, parking, backing up, wash-rinse-repeat.
Teens not only have to learn how to drive on the road with other vehicles, they have to learn how to operate the vehicle. That alone can be stressful, so starting slow, teaching them how to maneuver the car and use the features, before getting on the road, will go a long way to eliminating stress.
TIP #5: USE YOUR INSIDE VOICE
When you finally do get on the road with your teen behind the wheel, it’s extra important to remember to remain calm as much as possible, speak softly, and be encouraging.
I’m still working on this one.
For the most part, Marley has done a tremendous job of driving so far. And I have done a tremendous job of remaining calm. However, we have had a couple of situations that ended with me trying to put my foot through the floor for a nonexistent brake and hitting the dashboard yelling, “THE LIGHT IS RED! YOU HAVE TO STOP!”
Unless your child is about to do something dangerous, do your very best to speak calmly and correct in an encouraging way. Give them feedback when they handle a 4-way stop correctly, when they maintain a consistent speed on a long stretch of road (something that is harder than you think to a new driver), or when they merge without giving you grey hairs.
TIP #6: TRUST THEM
I know, Mom, this is hard. They’re your baby and they’re inexperienced. But trusting them will help them feel more responsible faster. You will have to gradually increase the amount of trust you give them, but trust them, nonetheless.
And let them know you trust them. Tell them. They need to hear from you that you think they’re doing a good job, and you trust them to get you to the grocery store and back in one piece.
TIP #7: TREAT DRIVING AS A PRIVILEGE
And privileges can be taken away. Listen, they might be teenagers, but they’re still kids. And kids get excited about stuff and start to take advantage of that stuff, or they get too cocky about their “mad driving skillz” and get careless.
Be very clear with your teenager that driving is a privilege, but it’s also a skill to be mastered. And they cannot master it in a few weeks or months. They need to understand that other drivers make stupid mistakes, and they need to be aware of them. They need to understand that the vehicle is a piece of heavy machinery that can kill themselves or others, and should be used with caution.
Teens need to know the dangers involved with driving a car, and they need to take them seriously. So if you teen gets a little careless and runs a red light, or blows through a stop sign, or picks up their phone at a red light, take the privilege away. Immediately. Then explain why in a very calm but stern manner.
TIP #8: ENJOY THE RIDE
Just like the diaper period or the terrible two’s, this too shall pass…and all too quickly. Enjoy the one-on-one time in the car with your teen. Have conversations about more than just the road. Tell them about your experiences learning to drive, or just talk about anything and everything.
This is a precious and important time in their lives, and one that you should look back on and remember fondly. Enjoy the ride.
Do you have any tips to offer? Leave a comment below!