First your baby jumps out of your car on his first day of school, and before you know it he’s jumping out of the driver’s seat of his own car. You don’t remember turning around, but obviously you did at some point and your son is now a legal, licensed driver.
While this is one of the most bitter sweet times in a parent’s life, driving is a huge responsibility and learning opportunity for both parent and teen alike. How you handle teaching your young adult the rules of the road, however, can be just as important as how he handles the car itself. Here are a few tips that will help maneuver your teen’s transition from passenger to operator safely and with as much encouragement as possible.
1. Start Early. These days families spend a majority of their time together in the car rushing from one event or place to another. Use that “together” time to start educating your pre-driving age son or daughter on the ways of the road, and teach by example. Because kids learn far more by observing than by being lectured, keep your own phone out of site and out of reach so you’re not tempted to check your e-mail or answer a text while you’re driving. By doing this you’ll be able to drop the “do as I say not as I do” adage and back it up with conviction.
2. Talk and agree. Communication is the most important factor in the safety of your teen and the world around her, as it is with every aspect of life. It filters into everything from where she’s allowed to go, who can ride with her, what time she has to be home and the fact that while she’s trustworthy other drivers are not necessarily. Coming up with boundaries that both you and your kid understand and agree on is the key to making this type of communication effective. If you end up barking orders at her without giving her a chance to comprehend the logic behind them, you’ll be opening the door to rebellion both at home and on the road.
3. Let them drive. Even though you are partially responsible for teaching your up-and-coming driver safe stopping distances, speeds and lane changes, your reaction time and experiences will indeed differ from those of your teen. If you start braking 1000 yards away from the car in front of you, that’s your driving pattern and habit. The way your son feels the brake pedal work under his foot is going to be entirely different than you, and he should be given the space to explore what works for him without your reaction causing him to panic. As long as he’s paying attention and stopping within a reasonable distance from the car in front on him, let him. However, it’s a great and healthy idea for you to explain your perspective and why you may have had a momentary lapse of reason and “freaked” a little. This type of feedback helps keep your driver relaxed, less on edge and encourages trust and safe driving. If there are times when the stopping distance is a little too close for comfort, remind him of your agreement to non-judgmentally discuss things and help him process the situation.
4. It’s all about the driver. It’s imperative your daughter understands that from your recent driving experiences with her, you trust her and her judgment. But other drivers — not so much. Explain to her why being on top of her driving game is so important since no one can ever truly know what’s going on with the person in the car behind, beside or in front of her. The guy swerving to her left might be fighting with his wife and change lanes without looking. Or the woman leaving the bar after getting fired might be the person driving in front of her. Encourage your daughter to be aware of her surroundings; reminding her of her responsibility to herself, to you and to others on the road.
5. You be the judge. It doesn’t take long for new drivers to feel as if they’ve been driving for decades once they have their license. It’s also easy with your new-found freedom to allow a few of the rules you’ve put in place to become suggestions. Your job as the parent is to keep your eyes and ears on the big picture and reframe the situation if things start to get a little too relaxed. Your child may “know” better than to stretch the limits, but keep in mind this freedom is all new to him. He still needs your help staying between the lines. While he’s watching for road signs, it’s your responsibility to be looking for warning signs that your protection and guidance is needed. Because you’ve built a relationship on open, honest and effective communication, speaking your truth with love and respect while helping him refocus will be as easy as putting the car in drive.