Kids. They grow up so fast. One day, you’re strapping a squirmy toddler into a child safety seat, and the next day, you’re handing them the keys to the car. Of course, there’s a little bit that goes on between those two events, but it does seem to happen in the blink of an eye.
So, if you’ve blinked, and your teen is approaching this major milestone in their life, there are some actions you can take to help them transition from passenger to new driver safely and successfully:
Model the behavior
The closer a teen gets to the day when they’ll start learning to drive, the more likely they are to notice what you do behind the wheel. That might come as a surprise — your kid paying attention to what you do, that is — but it’s true, and you can take full advantage of it.
Consider this your chance to set the example as a safe driver by:
Always using a seatbelt
Putting away your cell phone
Avoiding aggressive behavior
Practicing defensive driving
There is little that you can say about safe driving that will speak louder than your actions.
Talk about It
Build upon your good example by vocalizing what you are thinking about and the decisions you are making.
Of course, you understand the whys behind what you are doing, but your teen might not. This is a great way to let them hear your thoughts and know what they, too, need to be thinking about when behind the wheel.
Here are five conversations that are good idea to have with your teen before they get behind the wheel.
Play the Prediction Game
Whenever you have your teen in the car with you, ask them to try to guess what other drivers and pedestrians are going to do before they clearly signal their intentions or take action.
This type of exercise will help your teen develop what is known as “situational awareness,” a skill set that takes paying attention to a higher level. It can be distilled into these three principles:
Active perception of our surroundings
Full awareness of our situation
Anticipation of what could happen next
With as many moving pieces as there are to the driving experience, having situational awareness is a must.
States Make Laws, But Parents Rule
Each state has its own set of laws dictating what teens must do to get a license, but parents should view those regulations as the bare minimum and decide whether or not additional instruction or practice for their teen makes sense. For example, there is a good chance that your teen would benefit from many more behind-the-wheel hours than the minimums set by your state, so why shouldn’t you set that number? You should.
So, using your state requirements as a starting point, craft a personalized new-driver program that is tailored to your teen’s strengths, weaknesses, and experience. (The degree to which your teen participates in creating this plan, the greater their buy-in will be, and the smoother it will go.) Here is an example of a driving lesson plan we created for Texas behind the wheel training.
The Parent-Teen Driving Agreement
A parent-teen driving agreement, like this one promoted by the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics, would be a great addition to your teen’s new-driver program. There are several agreements online to choose from including our parent-teen driving contract, and you can always create your own contract. Just make certain that it commits your teen to:
Obey the rules of the road
Focus on the task of safe driving
Adhere to the laws by driving alcohol- and drug-free
Demonstrate maturity and responsibility
As the other party to the agreement, you should also be contractually obligated to the “parent’s promise” to drive safely and be a good role model.
Parent-Taught Drivers Ed
Remember those state requirements for teen drivers we mentioned earlier? You can ensure those are met by enrolling your teen in a state-approved drivers ed course. There are a number of providers in your area to choose from — including several convenient online options. (We might be biased, but we think our drivers ed courses best prepares teens through real world scenarios and memorable interactive lessons!)
Generally, teen drivers ed courses come in two flavors: instructor-taught or parent-taught.
If you choose a parent-taught drivers ed course, you will be more thoroughly involved and might find it easier to detect first-hand what additional training, practice, and resources your teen needs.
If you go with an instructor taught drivers ed course, you will want to reach out to the instructor for feedback regarding your teen’s strengths and weaknesses in order to know what additional support is required. It’s important to note that in many states your teen will still have to complete a certain number of driving hours with a licensed adult in addtion to the instructor hours.
In the end, navigating the new-driver phase of life is a challenge best taken as a team: parent and teen, working together.
Free Parent-Taught Drivers Ed Guide
If you’ve made it this far, you are truly dedicated to helping your teen become a safe driver. We applaud your efforts and want to reward you with this free, no-strings-attached, 44-page Parent-Taught Drivers Ed guide. You'll get access to a drivers ed cheat sheet, lesson planner, driving hours scheduler, tips, tricks, and even a customizable parent-teen contract!
And if you and your teen are ready to embark on your joint adventure, we’d love to be a part of that by having you take your Texas Parent-Taught Drivers Ed Course online with Aceable!