Teaching a Teen to Drive? Here’s 6 Tips for Giving Gentle Feedback

Driving with your teen is exciting and a little scary. You have dreamed about them becoming independent. You have grown tired of being their taxi driver. You’ve made a plan for tackling driver’s ed and talked about your family’s driving rules. It’s definitely time for them to learn to drive, but do you have what it takes to teach them without losing your cool? 

Yes! Yes, you do! But it may require a little effort on your part to stay calm in the passenger seat. Here are some tips from parents just like you on how to give feedback when you’re strapped into a car being driven by your teen who it feels like just learned to tie their shoes. Speaking of tying shoes, you taught them that too! Remember that? And look at them walking around with tied shoes all the time. You can teach them how to drive too! You’ve got this.

How to Give Gentle Feedback

1. Keep Calm and Drive On

When you’re in the car with your teen, you might be tempted to bring up things you’ve been wanting to talk to them about, after all, they are a captive audience. But driving practice is not the time to discuss hot topics that make you and your teen emotional. Research from Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that emotional drivers are ten times more likely to get into a wreck. Do your best to create a calm learning environment for your teen. Take deep breaths before driving practice and try to access the most zen version of yourself. 

Instead of saying: While I have you here, I’ve been meaning to ask you what happened with that chemistry test? I thought you studied! 

Consider saying: I’m so grateful for this time with you. It’s a really nice perk of teaching you to drive! 

2. Stay Positive

How does it feel when someone only points out what you’re doing wrong? No one wants to hear negative comments, especially when they are working hard to learn a new skill. Driving requires so many parts of your brain to be engaged. It is exhausting and overwhelming at times for your teen to learn and apply so many new skills at once. Before correcting your teen’s driving, point out a few positive things they are doing well. They’ll be more likely to listen to you and less likely to get defensive and/or upset. According to the Gottman Institute, teens really do care what their parents think. Giving them praise is good for their self-esteem and for your relationship.

Instead of saying: “You didn’t check your blind spot! We could have had a wreck if someone had been in the left lane just now.”

Consider saying: “Great job putting on your blinker and moving over for that cyclist. Be sure to always check your blind spot when you change lanes.”

3. Use “I” Statements

When emotions run high, it’s human nature to go right into blaming mode, which puts someone on the defensive and leads to arguing. Not good for teaching or driving.

Instead of saying: “You always forget to adjust your seat. How can you drive that way?” 

Consider saying: “I notice that when my seat is far away from the steering wheel I have a hard time feeling in control of the vehicle.” 

Reframing your comment as your own observation/feelings will enable your teen to hear you instead of going into defensive mode.

4. Be Clear and Kind

Teaching your teen to drive is no time for snarky comments or sarcasm about your teen’s driving. 

Let’s say your teen backs out of the driveway without checking their rearview mirror.

Instead of saying: “Nice job, hot shot. That’s a great way to get us both killed.” 

Consider saying: “I noticed you didn’t check your mirror. That’s the first step every time you put the car in reverse. Let’s stop and try again. I want to make sure you have this step down because it’s really important.” 

5. Ask Questions

Instead of lecturing them, ask your teen questions to find out what they already know. Then build on that. Now, you are having a conversation instead of giving a driving Ted Talk that your teen will likely tune out. 

Instead of saying: “In Texas, it is legal to turn right on red. This is because of state law blah blah blah that was first enacted due to the right to turn right Act of nineteen blahdy blah. Are you listening? This is important information!” 

Consider saying: “What did your driver’s ed course say about turning right on red?” 

Having your teen summarize what they know in their own words is a great way for them to reinforce what they’ve learned and enables you to make sure they are learning what they need to be a safe driver. 

6. Take the High Road

Your driving feedback could be as gentle as a summer breeze, and there will still be moments when your teen will roll their eyes at your kind and constructive advice. They are a teen after all. This is their job. And you are an adult, and old enough to not engage in a power struggle. 

Instead of saying: “Oh, sorry, I guess you know everything about driving. I’m not sure why I even bother!”

Consider saying: Nothing

There will likely be times when you’ll have to pretend to ignore those eye rolls and smug “I knows” and just keep on being your awesome parent driving instructor self. The ultimate driving lesson is to learn to take the high road. Just don’t forget to put your blinker on and check your blind spot first. 

Ready to get your teen on the road? Our parent-taught driver’s ed course will give you all the tools you need to stay calm and help your teen get their license!

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Elizabeth McBride