Parent Taught Drivers Ed: Why Teaching Your Child is Worth the Effort



Shawna Butler is a strategy advisor, Producer-Curator of TEDxAustin, and a mother.

 I must confess, going the parent taught route for drivers education was not my first, natural, or happy inclination. Much to my surprise (and contrary to popular commentary about teens not inviting parental involvement), it was my teenager’s insistence that caused me to examine my exasperation and reluctance.

I preferred, and thought it best, she learn from an experienced, professional driving instructor with emotional distance and objectivity. “Why not leave it to the experts?” I reasoned. I put her in swimming lessons despite being a competitive swimmer, running programs despite being a runner, and in everything from tying her shoes to applying mascara, I’ve routinely engaged subject matter experts to lead the teaching.

But my daughter wanted me to teach her to drive. And I didn’t understand why.As I listened to her explanation (and for the unspoken reasons driving them) my understanding changed and grew. She was feeling vulnerable and self-conscious about learning to drive and was much more confident taking on the challenge with her tried, trusted, and best known advocate – her mom. She reasoned (convincingly) that I know her, can read her, and care more about her than anyone. I know the specific car she’ll be driving, the routes, neighborhoods, and traffic conditions she’ll be navigating. With me as her driving *instructor*, she knows what she’s signing up for. It’s my third time managing this, and she’s banking on it being charmed.


Teaching your teen to drive is a learning experience for both of you. As an experienced driver, I’m reviewing my skills and habits and updating them where necessary. Some practices have changed (hand positions on the steering wheel due to airbags) some need review (the formula for flawless parallel parking), and some I’ve forgotten (required distance between parallel parked cars on a surface street?). Seeing these topics through the eyes of a beginner, I am reminded of the specifics, complexity, and variety of driving conditions. While I’m teaching her the basics of operating a vehicle, she’s teaching me the technology package our of 2014 “computer on wheels.” (When your car is a wi-fi hot spot capable of connecting 8 devices, it gives new meaning to “mobile computing.”)

Watching her progress and develop these new skills is gratifying. As parents of infants, we delighted in our children’s first utterances becoming full sentences and then insightful observations. We saw their first steps evolve from walking into charging down a soccer field. As parents of teenagers, we continue to delight in their new level of accomplishment and responsibility.


Shawna’s daughter, Colman, is an Aceable Ambassador.

Oh, and there’s another unexpected pleasure I’ve experienced…the satisfaction (sweet revenge) of her pleading for quiet while she’s driving because she finds my talking distracting…“I totally understand,” I answer with as straight a face as I can muster while remembering (vividly) her as a noisy child who never quite made peace with her car seat. While these internal *see-what-I-mean* moments of payback have been hilarious, being on the same page with her is priceless.


Parent taught driving lessons have their stressful moments. As an experienced driver, I’m teaching from a place of cumulative knowledge that includes navigation, vehicle operation, responding to a variety of driving environments, weather conditions, pedestrians, and other drivers. It’s a constant balancing act of giving guidance and keeping quiet — knowing when to call something to her attention and when to trust that she’s aware. She needs to learn and be prepared and I have to keep us, and others, safe while she’s learning. Finding the sweet spot of vigilant safety and letting her make mistakes can be stressful.

That’s where the Three P’s come in: Patience, Poise, and Positivity. Being patient as she learns a huge volume of information and new skills. Maintaining poise, even in dangerous situations. Staying positive and affirming her progress towards being a competent and confident driver.


My driver’s ed took place during 5th period in a darkened high school classroom behind simulators that were modeled after riding lawn mowers. My peers and I were all in it together. The camaraderie was fun, but the timing around earning your license was dependent on class availability and progress followed the semester’s inflexible schedule. Completing the off-road training was in someone else’s hands and on their timetable.

With a parent-taught course like Aceable’s, my teen is learning the material on her schedule and I’m helping her prepare for the on-road practice. She readily asks me questions that she may not feel comfortable asking a teacher, especially in front of her peers.

I keep track of her progress by following an established schedule and checking off the lessons as we go. Organization and accountability are important. I love the feature in Aceable’s app for monitoring her progress. It links the parent’s account to their student’s account for tracking progress. Seeing the milestones she’s reached and knowing how much time she’s invested sets the teaching agenda and boosts our confidence when we get in the car together. It’s a far different experience than the one I had.


I learned to drive in a stick shift, manual transmission car on the insanely busy, difficult-to-navigate, poorly signed, pedestrian rich streets of Washington, DC and in the heavy, often standstill traffic of northern Virginia. I was taught by my intimidating, litigator, obedience-with-exactness, rule-loving father who seized on my learning experience as an ideal opportunity to prepare court motions during his morning commute. Being ambidextrous, I had no sense of left or right (still don’t) and had moved to DC the same month I got my drivers permit. I didn’t know my way around or any of the landmarks to help me navigate. Amazingly, I never crashed. The driving gods were hovering over me while my father was reading court briefs. In fairness, he did teach me to drive safely. But it was far more stressful than it needed to be. I’m sure a few of his bald spots and my initial reluctance to teach my teens to drive were a result of our experience.


Choosing how your teen learns to drive involves multiple considerations, among them cost, (in)convenience, confidence, time constraints, skill, patience, and chemistry. Every family and parent/child duo gets to choose what best suits their situation. Helping my teenagers learn to drive has been a harder part of parenting than I appreciated until I was faced with doing it. (The things they don’t tell you before you have children!) The Aceable Drivers Ed App made saying “yes” to the parent-taught driver’s ed option a smart decision.

What I’ve learned in making this decision is the importance of better listening to my student driver, starting early, and cultivating learner empathy. Driving is a skill you can only simulate so much. As soon as your teen is able, start clocking time behind the wheel and your favorite mobile screen. It’s a memorable experience (in a good way) for both of you.