Tips for Teaching Your Teen How to Drive a Car

Learning how to drive a car is one of the milestones of the teenage years. It's also a source of friction with parents. This is a huge responsibility for any parent to undertake. The reason it's so hard is because this is your child. You have high expectations, driving is a complicated process and handling a large vehicle needs to be taken seriously. Parents can get stressed out, start yelling and further stress out the teen, who is trying to assimilate a number of new skills at the same time. Take a breath. Let it out. Here are some tips for teaching your teen to drive, if you are up for the challenge.

  • Know the laws. Be sure that you and your teen know the laws, because all U.S. states have added teen driving laws and restrictions. Some restrict the number and age of passengers, others restrict driving hours. All states require seat belts. Some forbid cell phone use. Learn your state's laws and make sure your teen knows them. Stiff fines and a loss of that coveted driver's license now await teens who break the rules.
  • Agree on a method. Make a deal that as long as your teen listens to you, you won't yell. Use as few words as possible to get your instructions across, and don't make chit chat during the driving lesson. Limit the conversation to driving instructions, questions and answers only. This puts you into the role of teacher and helps you be more objective and productive.
  • Practice in a big empty parking lot. This is a good place to work on parallel parking, reversing and three-point turns. Parking is extremely important, as it will always be a part of the driving test. It must be learned safely. Help your teen learn to move slowly and carefully into a parking spot. 
  • Teach how to use the mirrors. Mirrors are important while driving and while parking. Teach your teen to use them to judge distance and observe traffic before changing lanes.
  • Driving practice is essential. When you feel your teen is ready, head out on the road. Teach your teen to observe signs and signals, to drive defensively and to maintain a safe distance from other drivers. Once your teen can handle local roads, head for the highway. Although highway driving is seldom a part of a driving test, it's an essential skill to master.
  • Teach emergency stopping. Many cars are equipped with ABS break systems. There is a technique to making the most of this brake system. Read your car's manual and practice in a parking lot until your teen knows how to come to an immediate stop when needed.
  • Make a contract. Talk with your teen about expectations, and sign a contract committing to them. On the list can be mandatory seat belt use, absolutely no cell phone or texting, only driving where agreed and passengers only with permission, no eating while driving, no alcohol use at all, maintaining speed limits and any other items that you can add.

If you simply can't get through the teaching process without screaming at each other, it's time to call the professionals. Driving schools teach road skills without the stress of parent-teen relationships. It's also a good idea to sign your teen (and perhaps yourself) up for a defensive driving course. Some classes are aimed at teens, while others require a teen to have a driver's license. These classes teach advanced techniques for braking and controlling a car in emergency situations, going far beyond what you or a typical driving school would teach.

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