Five Conversations to Have With Your Teen Before They Start Driving

If you’re the parent of a teen who is about to start driving, nobody has to tell you that learning to drive is a big deal. You and your teen are probably feeling a lot of emotions, some of them conflicting: excitement, anxiety, anticipation, and maybe even fear. 

One important way you can set your new driver up for success is making sure you’re communicating clearly and giving them the knowledge they need before they get on the road. Here are five conversations to have with your teen before they start driving.

Ground Rules for Driving

There’s an old saying about boundaries: to be clear is to be kind. Before your teen puts foot to pedal, you should have a very explicit conversation about your expectations for their driving behavior. Depending on your family and your rules, that could include talking about:

  • Who they can have as a passenger in the car

  • Curfew

  • Following the law

  • Expectations for cleaning, maintaining, and gassing up the car

  • When they may (and when they definitely may not!) use their phone in the car

  • Chores they will be expected to use the car to do, like picking up a younger sibling or getting groceries

  • What the consequences will be for breaking a rule 

Some parents use a driving contract to lay out their driving ground rules. Whether or not you decide to go that route, be sure your teen fully understands what you expect from them behind the wheel.

The Drinking and Driving Talk

Speaking of being explicit with expectations, now is the time to have that awkward drinking and driving conversation with your teen. Parents might want to believe their underage child would never drink alcohol, but the reality is that one in 10 high school teens drinks and drives, and young drivers are 17 times more likely to die in a crash when they have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or higher.

Make it clear to your teen that, while you do not support teens drinking alcohol, you will always be there to come pick them up from a party if they’ve been imbibing. They should never, ever get behind the wheel if they’ve had a drink.

Sometimes a teen worried about being “in trouble” for drinking alcohol will risk driving to avoid getting found out. This is when deadly collisions happen! If your child knows you are there for them without judgment, they are more likely to call you to come get them. This conversation could truly save a life.

Funny Stories from When You Took Driver’s Ed 

Okay, that’s a heavy conversation! Lighten the mood by sharing some of the funniest stories from your time in driver’s ed. Did you get a ticket your first week in the car? Forget which one was the brake pedal and rear end someone in the parking lot? Maybe you just spent your driving hours white-knuckling the steering wheel waiting for disaster.

An Aceable study found that 87% of teens are anxious about driving. Sharing your mishaps and being honest about how you felt when you were learning to drive can help your teen understand that being anxious and even making mistakes is all part of the process. 

After all, whatever bumps you found in the road, you eventually became a good driver, right? Help them see that they will too someday.

How to Get Comfortable in the Car

Now it’s time to get practical. Before your teen starts driving, have them sit in the driver’s seat and show them how to adjust the seat and the mirrors.

According to Aceable driving expert Carlos Reyna, many new drivers are never taught how to make these adjustments and don’t speak up when they can’t see or aren’t able to comfortably reach the pedals. They might not even realize that the mirrors can be adjusted! 

So step one for learning to drive should be showing your teen exactly how to get themselves adjusted in any vehicle.

Get Straight on the Schedule

Finally, make sure you have figured out a schedule with your teen for completing their coursework and driving hours. 

This is especially important if you are doing parent-taught driver’s ed together. Between academic commitments, sports and other extracurriculars, and hanging with friends, it’s easy to let driver’s ed slip through the cracks.

Before your teen starts driving, get clear on how you’re going to schedule driving time together and commit to completing the course on the schedule you’ve decided. 

Okay, now your teen is ready to get behind the wheel! 

Need more resources? Check out 5 ways Parents can help anxious new drivers.

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Audrey Ference