Teaching Your Teen to Drive: 4 Ways to Keep Your Cool

Of all the milestones to look forward to, teaching your teen to drive is probably the most frightening and stress-inducing. There’s nothing like barreling down the highway at Mach 1 with a squirrel behind the wheel. Okay, that’s not exactly how it is but you understand the panic-inducing feeling that image has to invoke right?

When listening to other parents talk about teaching their teens how to drive, there is an almost immediate feeling of “thank goodness that’s not me” followed by a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach because eventually, it will be you and keeping your cool when your teen is behind the wheel is just as scary as it is important, to their success and to your sanity. Here are four tips for not keeping your cool while teaching your teen to drive.

teen driver

Teaching Your Teen to Drive: 4 Ways to Keep Your Cool

teenage driver

1. Start Small 

When your teen gets their learner’s permit, their first instinct may be to jump behind the wheel and chauffeur you home. Despite the eager and confident look on their face and their mad grab for the keys, it’s better to start their driving lessons off some place more controlled like an empty parking lot or back road. 
Both of you need to feel comfortable before setting out on the open road. Empty parking lots are a great place to practice turn signals, parking, coming to a fast stop, and other defensive driving techniques as well as becoming acquainted with the vehicle. The view is very different behind the driver’s seat and what might look exciting from passenger seat can be far more intimidating when your teen is peering over the steering wheel.

2. Create a driving plan 

Once you’re ready to leave the safety of the driveway or the parking lot with your teen behind the wheel, discuss in advance what skills you’re going to teach them that day and what you want to work on. It may be tempting to change it up mid-lesson but it can throw your budding driver off. Let them focus on a couple of skills at a time and building on those skills.

3. Coach not Criticize 

As you pry your foot out of the floorboards of the vehicle, you may be tempted to nitpick your teen’s driving when they make a mistake. Remember, you’re there to coach and correct – not belittle or talk down to your teen. Firstly, it will raise your stress level. Second, you’re going to put your teen on the defensive and stress them out so they will be less likely to listen to you. 

Instead of using passive-aggressive speak or judgmental phrases, ask questions such as, “What’s the speed limit right now?” when you’re tempted to accuse them of trying to get a speeding ticket. Gentle but firm reminders will keep them focused instead of accusations or yelling. At the same time, don’t wait to correct them if they do something wrong. Offer advice without being negative. While your teen is driving is also not the time to discipline them about non-driving related things like their messy bedroom or forgetting to take out the trash. Once again, you’ll distract your teen and make them feel hassled.

4. Promote responsible driving behavior 

If you want your teen to be a responsible driver, you need to practice the behavior you want them to learn. That might mean you have to drop some of your own bad habits like talking on the phone while driving, keeping both hands on the wheel, or eating and driving.  

At the same time, you need to remain actively alert while you’re in the passenger seat – just as if you were the one doing the driving. Give your full attention to your teen and refrain from texting or talking on the phone. 

Every parent has at least a little anxiety about teaching their teen to drive. However, if you reach a point where being your teen’s driving coach causes a full-on panic attack, consider handing the task over to another family member, a trusted friend, or even a professional driving instructor. Your teen requires someone who is calm and less excitable in order to become a confident, prepared driver.

Want to read more?
Check out these posts on teen drivers.

Here are some things I learned after handing over the keys to my teen driver for the first time. 

Things I learned since my oldest son got his learner's permit.

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