Congratulations! Your teen’s first few weeks of driving solo are going well, you’re settling into a new rhythm of his independence, and your anxiety is beginning to slightly lessen. Pat yourself on the back for having made it though the frustrating, panic inducing, and nail biting ups and downs of teaching a teenager how to drive!
Now is the time to very gingerly start loosening up the driving reigns and encouraging greater levels of personal driving responsibility, while keeping a firm grip on the driving expectations you both previously agreed to.
The tough road ahead
Though the hardest work is behind you, it doesn’t mean there won’t be some tough bumps down the road, literally. If you and your teen mutually drafted a driving behaviors contract, you’ve completed the first step to setting firm groundwork for a positive driving experience for the both of you.
Your contract will come in handy especially when those road bumps occur, and they will. But what you do and say when your teenager exhibits both good and bad driving behaviors is vitally important. Both firm and consistent consequences will set a positive yet unwavering tone, and one in which trust will continue to be earned between you both.
But as a parent, what are the best ways to respond and react to both good and bad driving behaviors? In my experience, you need to do so very carefully, patiently and lovingly. Yes, even while reacting to worse case scenario driving behavior, your teenager will need to be reminded that your main motivation is your unconditional love for them, and your desire to keep them safe. Period.
For your average adolescent who is navigating the world with an underdeveloped brain, this is often the toughest of concepts to comprehend, and arguments over driving behaviors can and will drive a further wedge between the trust you are trying to continually build. Be prepared for statements like, “Why don’t you trust me?” Staying consistent is key during the good and bad times.
Setting the limits
Before rewarding the good behavior, parents and teens are going to need to come together and define what bad driving behavior is, what entails a negative “incident” on their record, and then how it will be dealt with.
Will it be a formal driving citation or driving somewhere without permission? Will you be using a speed monitoring app, a distance monitoring app or another way to gauge how well your driver is doing? How will you deal with small dents or scratches made to the car at the hands of your teen? Is your teen responsible for sharing car insurance payments, deductibles and accidental or cosmetic repairs? How many “incidents” before driving privileges are reduced or taken away altogether?
It’s vitally important to have these discussions before independent driving starts, so there are no surprises and explosive arguments when and if the time comes to deal with an incident. Parents, you’re going to need a very united and strong front so prepare yourself accordingly.
Rewarding the good
After several months of good driving behavior (without agreed upon incidents), it’s important to let your teen know you recognize how well they are doing, how much you appreciate the seriousness they have taken their driving privilege and how you’d like to reward them in some way.
Doing so is a great incentive for teens to stay on track with their smart driving, and to not get too comfortable behind the wheel or lax about their driving ability. This can be with added driving time, driving after dark, driving with passengers, driving longer distances away from home, or even supplementing gas money. (Teenagers will do just about anything to NOT have to pay for their own gas!)
Keeping the conversation going
As your teenager grows increasingly comfortable behind the wheel, and after they have two or three years of safe driving under their belts, it’s still critical to keep the safe driving conversation open. The early college years are often filled with road trips and extended driving distances, serving as constant reminders to continue to practice and be vigilant with the same safe driving practice they did as newbies.
Older young adults may even be ready to begin taking care of their car driving expenses (if they aren’t already) and learning about the savings associated with safe driving is sure to be extra incentive. Remember, no matter how old you are, you’re never told old to be reminded to slow down and drive safe!