So your teen has a learner’s permit in his or her hot little hand. The chance to get behind the wheel is no doubt something your child has looked forward to with great longing and you, perhaps, with somewhat less.
The fear is real
Getting into a 4,000-pound vehicle that your child is going to slowly pilot around the block is scary. Yes, a trip around the block will possibly be all your nerves can stand on the first go-round, or perhaps you’ll need to start with merely pulling into and out of the driveway a few times first. Some parents will drive their child to an enormous abandoned parking lot and confirm for themselves that their child has a good grasp of starting, stopping, and turning before unleashing the budding young driver on an actual street.
How you handle the first drive will depend a bit on where you live. Those who live in a rural area are probably going to feel a little safer hitting the road in front of their house than those who live in a big city with heavy traffic near their homes. Also consider how well your child has done in driver’s education so far.
Naturally you’re going to emphasize safe driving rules, such as wearing a seatbelt and putting the cell phone where it can’t be seen during the driving lesson. This is also a moment of truth for you—if your driving habits have been less than stellar, clean them up. As in every other parenting endeavor, kids watch what you do more than they listen to what you say. Now, more than ever, is the time to model safe driving.
Do not expect your child to be a perfect driver from the get-go. Driving, like any other skill, has to be learned. Offer constructive feedback. Try not to yell, even if one of your child’s moves genuinely rattles you.
Watch the jokes
While jokes about crazy new drivers abound, try not to joke too much about your child’s driving, and don’t do it at all during lessons. Yes, you may develop extra gray hair during this process, but teaching your child to be a safe driver is serious business. Your child needs to know that you believe in his or her ability to be trusted to drive safely. It’s better for your teen to overhear you saying he or she is doing quite well behind the wheel than to overhear you joking that you needed sedation after the first lesson.
Once your child has a good grasp on basic maneuvering, have some lessons at night, in the rain, and if possible, on snowy or icy streets. It will not always be a bright, clear day when your child drives, and it’s better for him or her to learn how to handle difficult conditions with you there to offer advice. Remind your child to continuously be on the look-out for cars that suddenly slow down, cars parked along the shoulder, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians—in short, to be aware of all surroundings at all times.
Another important thing to do after basic skills are learned is to teach your child to do at least some of the driving on longer outings. Learning to drive for longer periods without falling to highway hypnosis is an important skill. This is especially true if your child has always been the type to fall asleep during long car trips. And don’t just drive on familiar streets close to home. Eventually, work your way into driving on unfamiliar streets. Make sure your child is comfortable on a country lane at night, a city street at rush hour, and on the Interstate anytime.
Bring in Grandma
If you find that your driving sessions become too nerve-wracking, there’s no shame in handing this duty over to your spouse or a grandparent. Sometimes a teen is less nervous about learning with someone else. The main objective is to make sure your son or daughter is a safe, responsible driver, so do whatever it takes to get there.
You’ll probably be required to keep track of how many hours your teen drives; don’t forget to keep an accurate record of this.
Take it up a level
For bonus points, teach your child how to drive a stick shift. Though automatic transmissions are obviously much more popular, there are occasional times when knowing how to drive a stick will come in handy, such as when one needs to drive someone else’s car or when renting a car in a foreign country. Plus, it’s a skill that gives real street cred.
Good luck, and enjoy the eventual payoff: being able to send your teen to run errands for you.