Helping your teen get their learner’s permit

On the Road 3 min read

In some ways, it seems like getting a driver’s license was easier back when I was a kid. But after 15 years of being a parent, I’ve finally accepted a certain truth: Things were easier when I was a kid, but it was only because my parents did all the hard stuff (like paperwork) for me.

My parents did all the research for getting my driver’s license, tracked down the documents and filled out all of the forms. All I had to do was show up and take the test.

My son had a similar experience. Of course he studied and reviewed, and studied some more. He did practice tests, online quizzes, and we even created homemade flash cards.

Tip #1: Follow the instructions.

Call your state’s Driver License Division or visit the web site and there will be a clear list of what documents you need to bring. Follow it to the tee. If it says to bring a Social Security card, then bring a Social Security card. A passport, a note from your parents, or sad puppy dog eyes do not count as a Social Security card

Eventually I got all of my ducks in a row and my son and I headed to the DMV. He had continued to study hard and we both felt he had a good shot at passing the test. But we were both wrong. He failed miserably on his first try. I’m told this is a very common occurrence.

The good news is that our state allows you to take the test twice each day. So just a few minutes after finishing and failing the test the first time, my son immediately got back in line to take it again. The questions and answers were still fresh in his mind, and any nervousness he had felt earlier had now morphed into determination. He was confident he would pass the second time around, and I admired his resolve.

When he sat down in front of the computer and entered the top-secret code, however, he was stunned to see that the second test was not identical to the first one. The second test had new questions, and of course, different answers. As a result, he scored even lower on the second test. He was not a happy camper.

Tip #2: Don’t be too disappointed if it takes multiple attempts

 You may pass the test on the first try, but don’t be too disappointed if you don’t. Driving is serious business, and the exams are purposefully very hard. If you don’t pass a test, be sure to take some time to study before the next one. Our state allows you to take the learners test three times for the initial $15 fee, but only twice in one day. Most states will show you the correct answers to the questions you missed, but don’t assume that the questions will be the same each time you take it. At the very least the questions will be in a different order, but the answers could also be in different order, or the questions might be altogether different            

 My son finally passed the test on his third try. Passing was a matter of being in the real test setting at the DMV, and also getting used to the way the actual tests were worded. As a parent I encouraged him to study and tried not to show too much disappointment when he didn’t pass. It varies for each child, but I know that my son puts enough pressure on himself that he didn’t need to feel additional pressure, guilt, or disappointment from me.

Tip #3: Be supportive

 Help your teen understand that driving is a major responsibility and that the driving exam will not be easy. This is not a test that can be passed without studying, and many will need to take it several times no matter how much they prepare. Be supportive as a parent, but these are rules that drivers need to know even when a parent isn’t there. If a child isn’t ready to study and do what is required to pass the test, then it’s probably because they’re not quite ready to drive.

My wife and I are thrilled (and equally terrified) that our son has earned his learners permit. I’m confident he will ultimately be a responsible and capable driver, but the next six months of driving with him will probably include a few moments in which I have my doubts. With patience and lots of crossed fingers I’m hoping we all survive.


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