Teaching your teen to drive can be like climbing Mount Everest: You know it’s going to be excruciatingly difficult, the goal is just to hand on tight and do everything possible to keep from plunging over the edge into the abyss. Reflecting on his own experiences as a father, Bill Cosby teases that “when a child requests a car, a father will wish that he were a member of a sect that hasn’t gone beyond the horse.”
As your own child nears driving age, you may begin having nightmarish visions about your son or daughter rolling up to the house in their hooptie, sparks flying from the wheelchair that is ominously stuck under their drive shaft.
You might even start contemplating some rather absurd solutions to these newfound concerns, such as hiring a licensed paramedic and a state trooper to drive around with your child at all times. Or maybe you should try wrapping the car in bubble wrap, so that those people who bounce off your teen’s hood won’t sue you for as much.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that your teen may be the safest driver in your family. Even if this is the case, there are other drivers on the road whose antics can be very frightening. You’ve probably quite a bit in your days; people writing, texting, eating breakfast, or using a computer while driving; road rage and drunk drivers, one lady who was trying to give her dog a pedicure while flying down the highway at 80 m.p.h. — the list goes on and on. Such is the circus your young driver will have to navigate.
Perhaps the scariest part of a teen’s driving is that parents are no longer in control. Let’s face it: you’re a control freak by nature, especially when it comes to your kids. But while you can’t grab the wheel for them or clear the highway of all the other idiots who happen to be on the road, there are several things parents can do to improve their child’s safety behind the wheel.
1) Practice, practice, practice.
This might seem surprising, but all those times you submit to riding shotgun with your teen, clinging to the door handle for dear life while barking out instructions at your young driver does pay off. (Well, perhaps they could do without the yelling and screaming.) Yet STUDIES SHOW, teens that spend more time driving with their parents are safer on the road. For each hour a teenager spends permit driving with adults, the rate of serious accidents drops significantly.
Imagine that teen driving is like a sport. It requires plenty of practice to get good at any sport, and the more work you put in at the batting cages, the higher your child’s batting average will be. Driving works the same way, you want them to excel, not just eek by with passable skills. This comes through practice time, and the more they get, the better their driving will be. Take them out as frequently as you can, especially when your teen is first starting out and will be excited to drive. Compliment this practice time with reading material and having safety discussions.
2) Model good habits yourself.
The truth is that you’ve been teaching your children how to drive since they were four or five years old. But now that they’re big enough to get behind the wheel themselves, it’s time to start cleaning up your own driving habits. There’s a clear correlation between what parents do in the car and what teens do in the car. If you text behind the wheel or engage in other careless behavior, you can be assured your teen will pick yup these habits as well.
None of us are perfect, and everyone’s driving could use improvement. The important thing is that you start to address these issues now. Your adolescent will be forgiving of imperfection, but teens hate hypocrisy. So fess up to your own dangerous habits and ask your kids to assist you in cleaning them up. Talk about why they aren’t safe, and then give your family permission to speak up if they notice you doing these things. This provides you with the moral standing to do the same with them.
3) Keep involved.
Stay involved in your teen’s driving even after they receive a license – don’t’ just drop out of the picture and assume the driving education is done. Continue working with them, and make sure that they understand you expectations: “I expect you to never text while driving; I expect that you’ll call me if, for whatever reason, you might not be in the best shape to drive,” and so on. Don’t presume they already know these things.
It also might be prudent to put reasonable restrictions on a teens driving. For example, create an “ask first” policy when it comes to using the car, so that they aren’t under the impression they can head out for any little reason whenever they feel like it. The point of this is not to be a scrooge; you should be saying yes on most occasions. The goal is simply to get them to think about driving as a privilege (which makes them more apt to value and protect this privilege through responsible behavior) and to cut back on some of the unnecessary trips.
You should also give friendly reminders on a different safety issue each time they head out. (Remember to watch your speed; no texting behind the wheel, wear your seat belt, etc.) They’ll roll their eyes and think you’re crazy (you should be used to this by now), but it will help keep safety in the forefront of their minds. Do this consistently, and your nagging voice will show up during their driving.
Looking on the bright side.
Even though teens have crash rates 4 to 5 times as high as other age groups, the overall odds of getting through this stage without any major catastrophes are still overwhelmingly in your child’s favor. There may be a few scratches or white knuckles along the way, but that’s just par for the course on the journey towards raising an experienced driver.