How to teach a teenager to drive without tears (or dented bumpers)

Teaching a teenager to drive can be stressful for both the parent and teen, but you’ll make it through this like millions have before. There is no one way how to teach a teenager to drive because every teen and every parent-teen relationship is different. However, these six tips for learning to drive apply to just about every situation. Safety is the most important priority while teaching your teen to drive, not just for you and your teen but for others sharing the road with you, so make sure you take it step by step.

Teach on the car they’ll drive

Automatic cars may be easier to drive, but if your teen will be driving a manual, they need to learn on a manual. Learning an automatic and then re-learning on a manual will actually be even more overwhelming than just starting on a manual, difficult as it may seem. If they’ll be driving your minivan or big SUV, that’s what they need to practice on, too. If they’re lucky enough to be getting their own car, the style of that car is best to learn with. Automatic versus manual, small or big, four-wheel drive, snow tires… Keep it as consistent as you can, even if you’re nervous about them scratching the nice car.

Stay calm

Your stress will stress out your teen, so don’t get mad if they make a mistake. Remember back to their toddler days when you encouraged them even when they couldn’t stack the block tower as high as they wanted? The blocks were cheaper than the car they’re now behind the wheel of (time flies!), but you had no inclination to freak out at them for learning, so afford them the same patience and kindness now.

Start small

Just like your parents probably did for you, take them to an empty parking lot (a church during a weekday is a good bet) to learn before ever going on the road. There is no rush to get out of the parking lot– you can go there for as many weeks as you both need to feel comfortable with heading out on the road. Start with low-speed roads so they never need to go over 25 miles per hour to start off and no one can get mad at them for going too slow. Remember that pedestrians, wild drivers, and animals can come out of nowhere, so you want to be totally prepared before going to higher speeds, venturing into a busy city, or merging onto the highway. Practice stop signs over and over at the beginning to get that reflex to stop when needed instilled.

Set an example

When you drive, do you ever yell at another driver when they cut you off? Do you ever glance at your phone at a red light? Do you always wear your seatbelt? Your teen will be watching your driving behavior now more than ever, so make sure you’re modeling what you want them to do.

Enroll them in driver’s ed

You don’t have to do all of the hard stuff yourself. This is a great skill to outsource teaching. Going to driver’s ed makes for safer drivers, and you may even get a discount on their car insurance. Best of all, the driving school provides a practice car they can take your kid in for the scary stuff like their first time on the highway. Preserve your nerves, vocal cords, and relationship with your teen by letting someone else handle that. You’ll also get the bonus of someone else giving them safety lectures so you’re not the only one nagging them about texting and driving.

Make the guidelines clear

Are they allowed to drive your car without asking? Are they allowed to drive their friends? What are the consequences for a speeding ticket? Who is going to pay for the car insurance? Who pays for oil changes? Where will they keep their driver’s license? Can they call you consequence-free if they’re in an unsafe situation? Does their phone need to be off while driving? Do they need to have their phone with them any time they drive? Will they have AAA? There is a whole list of new rules and agreements to make once they get their learner’s permit and you want to start talking about them ASAP. You could even come up with a contract for them to sign.

Lastly, enjoy the time together. Teens don’t come to their parents for help and advice all the time as they grow up, but they need you for this. You’ll be having one-on-one screen-free time so take advantage and make the most of it.

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