Many kids dream about their first car: what it will look like, where they will go in it, and when they’ll finally get it. Before getting behind the wheel of their very own car, though, teens have to get behind the wheel of someone else’s, and learn how to drive. Learning to drive can be incredibly exciting, but also very stressful, not only for the teen but also for the parent or guardian taking on the challenge of teaching them. Whether you’ve already taught a teen or two but are looking to make your next experience less stressful, or your oldest child is approaching driving age and you’re about to tech someone to drive for the first time, check out our tips and tricks for making the lessons as easy, effective, and stress free as possible.
Take Small Steps: When learning anything, it’s generally a good idea to start with the basics. When it comes to a skill like driving, which is complicated and can be dangerous, this is especially important. Start with short lessons in an empty parking lot, or quiet back roads you and your teen are familiar with. Talk through the route, and the skills you’ll be practicing, before you head out. You can even elect to drive the route yourself first, with your teen in the passenger seat, so that they’ll have a clear idea of the area they’ll be driving through. This will also give you a chance to explain things like four-way intersections, school zones, and round-abouts in a low-stakes situation, instead of as your inexperienced driver is attempting to navigate them for the first time. As you move on to more advanced drives, remember to continue taking small steps. For example, when you take your teen on the highway for the first time, consider only driving between one or two exits, or pulling off at a rest stop close to your destination, so they can get a taste of the experience before being thrown into an extended highway drive.
Keep Your Cool: It’s natural to assume that your teen driver may be nervous or edgy while learning to drive, but many people forget that the experience can also be incredibly nerve-wracking for the driver. Not only do you want to make sure that your teen is doing things right and forming good habits, but also being in the passenger seat when you’re used to driving can make you feel out of control and anxious. While this is perfectly natural, it’s important to take a few deep breathes and keep your cool. Yelling, clenching your fists, stomping on your imaginary brake and other similar behaviors can be very distracting, and will only add to a young driver’s nerves. Instead, try to correct with questions, and anticipate problem areas so that you can offer gentle reminders before they arise.
Simplify the Situation: While scanning for a radio station or drinking a coffee might seem like perfectly reasonable things to do while driving for you, small complications like this can be a serious distraction to an inexperienced driver who needs to keep all of their focus on the drive. Especially at the beginning, keep things as simple and distraction-free as possible. That means reducing the number of passengers (best to keep it to just you and your teen, if possible), and keeping the radio turned down or off. Professionals with Sheridan Nissan in New Castle, Delaware, tell us that some cars even come equipped with teen driver settings, which reduce distractions by disabling certain features.
Find a Professional: In many states, some form of driver education is required to get a driver’s license, at least under the age of 18. Whether or not your state requires it, driver’s ed can be a great idea for any young driver, and for you. Even if you’re a great teacher, having a professional instructor is always a good idea, and young drivers may feel less pressured driving with someone other than a parent or close family member. Scheduled driving hours can also help take the pressure off you, as many states require so many hours of practice before taking the driving test and it can be hard to fit all of them in on your own. If all of this still doesn’t convince you, consider that having completed a certified driver education course may get a young driver lower insurance rates.
Teaching your teen to drive doesn’t have to be stressful for either of you. Keep these tips in mind and remember to be patient with your young driver, and the experience can be fun and rewarding for both you and your teen.