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Tips for nervous parents of teen drivers

It’s time to teach your kids that self-control when driving does pay dividends on the road and off.

The braces and training wheels have come off and one day you look at your kid and realize they are nearly an adult. It’s time to teach them to drive. Before you get cold feet at the prospect of your kiddo commandeering the family car, remember the one thing that will help you breathe easier.

Create a solid unbreakable rule. No driving without insurance. I swear, once we told our kids this was the deal, my shoulders returned to their normal position! I could teach them about responsibility and weave in a lecture? Yep, I slept like a baby.

The conversation was, “You will be covered by insurance as you are learning. So, if an accident happens, you’ll be able to recover. If you hit someone, THEY’LL be able to recover, and the car? It’s a thing … that can always be replaced.”

Or something like that.

If you know teens = worry, do something to make the journey easier

Things have changed since we learned how to drive. Back then, the freeways were clearer, rush hour wasn’t so rushed, and leisurely Sunday drives were truly leisurely.

Now, when we instruct our kids, we are not only telling them how to work the various features, which operate the car … we are also imparting how critical it is to stay vigilant.

Children need to learn to drive defensively

Here’s a chuckle … before I allowed my kids to think of getting behind-the-wheel, I had them sit on the couch holding plates in their hands that acted as steering wheels. They would rehearse turning their heads while keeping the plates still. Because so many times kids want to hop in the driver’s seat and they haven’t taken the time to practice isolating their body movements. They look left, right, left and they twist the wheel while they are doing it! The paranoid parent in me felt better and knew I’d done everything in my power to train them right.

My good feeling was only compounded with the knowledge our safe driving habits were paying off, that resisting the Mario Andrettis on the freeway meant we could save real money. So, we embarked on parking, confident in our adulting skills, and prayed our qualification for low risk would roll right on into the next generation.

Our best tips for helping your kid? Schedule time to talk about how vital it is to drive safely, to challenge themselves to make good decisions, even if it means not giving their friends a ride, or turning down the radio to laser-focus on their environment. We also told them to always leave an escape route for themselves if events out of their control, like a car colliding in front of them should happen. Choose not to drive neck in neck with other drivers, and large trucks who might not see you, and know what you would do in any situation at any time. If someone is tailing you, don’t speed up, but wait for them to pass. And in one instance, I told my son to pull over because he had gotten upset at himself for a mistake made while changing lanes.

Anticipate each of your kids will have different driving habits as well. One child thought turning a corner onto a quieter street from a busier one was such a relief he let out a big breath and stopped the car in the middle of the road! Our daughter was a natural driver, but she didn’t like to be told what to do. Pro tip: the time for THAT discussion is not while your child is maneuvering your vehicle!

To recap our helpful and sanity-saving parent driver do’s:

  • Cover yourself and your family from anything unexpected. Try Progressive’s Auto/Home bundle, for example. It saves a ton of headaches and I dig knowing a company will give me a kickback, especially in these trying teen years. I’m too busy worrying about everything adolescent to remember anything else, unless it’s taped to the fridge … or my forehead.
  • Set expectations. We are only learning to drive without emotion, while practicing defensiveness, without friends in the car, while buckled up, and when we have control over our body and have memorized every single operational feature. Absolutely ZERO TEXTING (yes, stoplights/signs are off-limits, too). Now is also the time to answer any questions kids might think are silly, and for your teen to share any hesitations or fears. Some kids get really keyed up, so be prepared to calm them down and reassure them of their skills.
  • Get back at it after mishaps. Yes, your hearts were racing, and maybe in the moment it seemed like a great idea to never give it another go. But you can’t let your fear or your teen’s hold you back from progressing and achieving a milestone in their lives. It’s the first of many, and teaching them to drive is the prime time to show them it’s not so bad adulting. The secret is grace under pressure, willingness to learn and try again, and … ice cream for breakfast.
  • If you just can’t even deal. That’s OK. If you are a nervous driver yourself, or you can’t get past the fear of getting into the car with your teen, no judgment here. It’s the reason why driving schools were invented. And guess what? Even though your kid might be required to take behind-the-wheel instruction through their driver’s ed class, it doesn’t mean that you sign off with one lesson. If they need more time with an instructor, there’s nothing wrong with paying for additional sessions.

Buckle up and be safe as you drive forward together.