Teaching Your Teen to Drive

Driving a car is one of the most normal yet most dangerous thing that your child can do. Your teen may be so excited to get behind the wheel, but the thought of that may have struck terror into your heart. You have spent years protecting them from danger, but on the other hand, you know they will need to learn how to drive on their own once they grow up.

Always check your local laws and requirements for learners permits and training your children to drive. There are many online programs that will provide step by step guidance and training to assist you with teaching your child to drive.

For teenagers, driving is their first significant step towards adulthood, independence and freedom. However, the first year or two of driving for teenagers are the most dangerous periods. According to CDC’s 2015 statistics, teens crash as much higher rate than older drivers, and the worst age for car accidents is at 16 years old. These new drivers has a crash rate that is twice as high as drivers who are 18-19 years old. And note that motor vehicle crashes is the leading cause of death among teens in the US. The most common reasons for car crashes include being distracted, going too fast, and lack of proper scanning to detect and react to hazards.

Teaching your child how to drive will probably be stressful and anxiety-inducing for a parent, but being a responsible driver is a life skill your children must master. The statistics are sobering, but parents hold the keys to help teenagers beat these odds. You can just enroll them to a driving school, but as their dad, it will be nice for them to learn how to drive safely and responsibly from you.

Here are some tips for teaching your teen to drive:

1. Be a good role model

As a parent, be the driver you want your child to be. As they ride in the car with you, they can picking up good practices, but some may mimic dangerous habits too. If you use your phone, eat, or speed as you drive, don’t be surprised if your teen will think that it’s a normal driving behavior. You may be so comfortable behind the wheels that’s why you can do it (but don’t, those can still get you a ticket for careless driving), but avoid doing it, especially when your child is in the car with you. As a parent, you know that your kids can take their cues from you.

Drive safely and responsibly, as this will influence how your child will drive. Use seatbelts and always remind others to wear seatbelts. This is your first step – seat belt use is incredibly lowest among teen drivers and the majority of fatal crashes in teens happen to those who are unbuckled. As young as they are, tell them to always wear a seatbelt, and this will instill a good habit that may help save their life in the future.

2. Let your child initiate

Teens vary as to what age they are ready to learn how to drive. Don’t make it a rule that by 16, they must have a license already. It may work for most teenagers, but if your teen doesn’t show interest yet, don’t push it. An anxious and pressured teen driver can be dangerous. Once you feel that your child is responsible enough and ready to learn, express your desire to teach them. Wait for your child to approach you before you start your driving lessons.

3. Plan ahead

When teaching your teen how to drive, you must know what you are going to do. Plan your lessons and let your teen what skills you will be working on.

First, you have to familiarize them with the vehicle itself. Teach them how to use mirrors, seatbelts and what airbags do. Before you teach them how to drive, you can ask for their help in fueling up the car, cleaning the car, inflating the tires and inspecting it and checking up fluids. You can also teach them about dashboard warning lights.

On your first basic lessons, teach them how to control the car. They must learn how to stop and start the engine, do safe turns (including signaling), back up, shift gears, use the brake, avoid distractions and signal to other drivers.

Teaching them to drive is one thing but parking is another. A lot of beginner drivers do parking errors, and some accidents and damage to other cars are caused by getting in and out of parking spots more than any other cause. An empty parking lot and a residential street is a good place to hone your teen’s parking skills. Teach them how to do all kinds of parking, such as angle parking, parallel parking and 90-degree parking.

Once they know these skills, ready your teen on how to operate a vehicle safely along with other drivers, pedestrians, and parked cars around. This must be done first on a residential street before moving to a multi-lane street. At this point, you can each your teen how to navigate safely through intersections, use mirrors, check blind spots, make a safe lane change, obey traffic signs and operate within speed limits.

After these, you can teach him advanced driving skills like freeway driving, night driving, and driving in snowy, icy or rainy weather conditions. Don’t try to start this stage unless your teen is completely ready and comfortable. By the way, the best time to educate your child on driving is during the summer, when the weather is dry and perfect to prevent accidents.

4. Start in an empty parking lot or a wide open area

In case this is not obvious, you have to give your teen a lot of safe space while you are teaching him to drive, especially on the first few times he or she is behind the wheel. There will be a lot of stopping, starting and turning. Your teen may misjudge how soon to start a turn, or get confused about the gas pedal or brakes. You don’t want his early lessons to bother or possibly damage or hurt other cars, trees, curbs, fences or people. When you feel your teen is well adjusted and comfortable already, you can try bringing them to a place where there is traffic.

Remember to start slow and build up. You may need to give him a lot of time for basic things like getting a feel of the car first. You may need to have few sessions with your teen just sitting behind the wheel, or keeping a foot on the brake while shifting through gears. Start as basic as necessary, in line with your child’s comfort level, and work up from there.

5. Take your time and practice a lot

Your teen needs a lot of practice to make him a safe and capable driver. What will remove your teen from belonging to the high-risk group is experience, and parents must supervise this. New drivers need to think about every single step due to lack of experience, but the more they drive, the less they have to think about each step. Make sure your child is more comfortable with the most basic tasks, like stopping, before teaching a more challenging step, like backing up. There is the beauty of taking things slow – teaching them everything at once will be very overwhelming for them.

You have to make practice as frequent as possible, like twice a week. Stopping for a long time will make your teen forget what they learned about, and you have to get them accustomed to what you already taught once again. This way, they will pick up the lessons much faster and your teaching sessions will go smoother.

6. Be specific and avoid insults

Instead of saying insulting words like “You’re going to get a speeding ticket if you continue on this way,” try a question-asking approach like “What’s the speed limit here?” If they do not know, then inform them and tell him to slow down as needed. Don’t use comments like “You’re too distracted!” or “Do you want to die?” This can just upset your teen because as a beginner behind the wheel, he or she might be nervous himself. No one likes a confused, anxious and infuriated driver. Be direct and specific in what you want him or her to do instead of using sarcastic or generalized comments. You can just say “Focus on the road,” or “Hit the brakes” – these will be more helpful.

Also, be careful with directions. Give your teen lots of notice when you want him to do something, rather than surprising them as this will get him confused. Rather than saying “Turn left right now,” you can say it before the turn comes and tell him “Turn left in the next block.” This way he can remember how to make a turn and ready himself with the change he will be doing. Also, use the word “right” for telling directions and be clear with your child about this. When your teen does something right, just say “Correct” to avoid confusion.

7. Keep your emotions in check

A calm parent who can give constructive feedback is the best parent to raise a responsible teen driver. You have to bring more patience and keep your emotions in check. If there is yelling, swearing, whining and crying (your child’s or yours or both), then you have to stop the session and just go home.

Patience and understanding is what you need – expect some “oops” moments. Your kid may be great in everything, but don’t expect him or her to be automatically be great at driving. Avoid hurtful and insulting criticisms while driving, because you won’t want a nervous teen anxious to make mistakes driving the car. Your teen can’t focus safely if he is overwhelmed, jumpy or angry. Try to be level-headed at all times.

If the driving lessons frequently gets overheated, then you can let the other parent give it a try next time. Or a trusted friend or relative. If your teen gets stuck on a particular skill and he or she still can’t perform the task after you have tried teaching it several times, you can resort to driving school to take family dynamics out of the equation.

8. Team up with your spouse in teaching your teen

They say two is better than one. You can be the primary teacher of your child for driving, but your teen can benefit from a joint effort of his or her parents. For instance, your wife can teach your teen how to be careful around other cars and pedestrians, while you can teach him how to park properly. You and your wife have your own strengths in driving that your teen can pick up and balance.

9. Keep watching

So you have taught your teen well and she earns her license. Don’t relax just yet. Having a license means that your teen has met the bare minimum skill needed for competency. Continue to supervise your teenager as an in-car passenger.

If you are not available, tell him to have no big trips across town, downtown or on the highway until they have more experience. Restrict them to familiar places first – to places where they know how to get to without GPS. When a new driver gets lost, every skill goes out of the window because of panic.

10. Have a driving agreement

Once your teen gets comfortable and tends to enjoy driving, you still need him to be careful. Consider making a parent-teen driving agreement where you can set some ground rules for driving. Start with the NHTSA’s “5 to Drive” plan, such as no cellphones while driving, observe speed limits, no alcohol, no extra passengers and no driving and riding without seat belts. You can add rules to this like keep your phone out of reach, no driving after 10 PM, no lending of car to friends, etc. Have your teen sign it and put it up the wall near the car keys. Create consequences if your teen breaks a rule – the best would be taking the keys away for a period of time. Teens need to be disciplined to keep them safe on the road.