Your Teen Learning to Drive? Advice for Parents

Learning to drive is an important rite of passage. For both teen and parent, it represents a step toward independence and adulthood — and also an opportunity for bonding that’s unlike any other. Read on for some pointers on how to make the learning experience as safe and rewarding as possible. 

Start on the back roads . . .
Every first-time driver should have the opportunity to practice on less-busy (and if possible, deserted) roads before tackling the highway. It builds confidence and gives the teen a chance to master control of the vehicle without the distraction of traffic laws, other drivers, or unforeseen circumstances. Depending on how rural the area is, it might also provide a good chance to discuss what to do when an animal appears in the road, or if the way ahead is blocked. As a bonus, it will likely encourage them to keep their speeds low at first while learning to drive.

. . . but don’t stay there
While it’s important for every driver to feel confident behind the wheel, they can’t keep circling around vacant parking lots forever. Sooner or later, they will have to move on to the next step: maneuvering the vehicle through traffic. Make sure they have plenty of time to practice on the highway — and in a downtown setting — before the road test.

Keep cell phones and other devices tucked away
This may seem an obvious point, but the danger of cell phone use while driving can’t be overstated. In fact, the practice is estimated to cause 1.6 million crashes
per year, and texting and driving is responsible for roughly one-quarter of all car accidents in the U.S. It’s imperative, therefore, that parents should lead by example. Even when the teen is the one operating the vehicle, the parent should keep their own phone switched off (unless there’s some life-or-death reason to keep it on; in which case it should be set to vibrate). The road requires the undivided attention of both the operator and the instructor. This is especially true during the lessons themselves; however, a good example is invaluable, no matter what the circumstance.

There’s no such thing as too much preparation
The only way to learn to drive is to practice. No amount of instruction could ever replace experience, and repetition is key. Parallel parking, for example, is a trap that foils many a new driver on his first road test. Since it can be nerve-wracking to attempt this maneuver on a busy street, have them practice in the driveway or in an empty parking lot. Similarly, when driving on the highway, don’t forget to emphasize the importance of signaling consistently and correctly.

Share stories from experience
One of the best things a parent can do — in any situation, not just those that involve driving lessons — is to share details from his or her own experience. This will help the child feel more at ease, and also work to strengthen the parental bond during this crucial turning point in the relationship. As the student comes to learn more about the parallel experiences in her parents’ lives, she will better appreciate what this newfound independence means, and that it should not be taken lightly. Recognizing that Mom and Dad once endured the same struggles can work to boost self-confidence and healthy camaraderie on both sides.

The road from adolescence to adulthood is often tricky to navigate. Adding driving responsibilities to the mix can be even more challenging. A balance of good judgment and humor is needed to make a smooth transition. Keep this in mind while your teen is learning to drive, and the road will remain clear.

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