Get Your Teen Ready for Driving School

Disclaimer: The information provided here is meant to be entertaining and informative. The legality of driving without a permit is dependent on your state laws and the location of the practice drive. Please check with your local police department before allowing anyone without a permit to drive your car, including empty parking lots.

Teen drivers. We’ve all made a joke or rolled our eyes when referring to these inexperienced motorists who move into the role of vehicle operator each and every year.

For a teen, few things are more exciting than getting the license. For a parent, there are few things more terrifying. Not only do the family insurance rates go up when a teen is added to the policy, but the worries and concerns swirl around every time their kid grabs the car keys and heads out the door.

While it’s impossible to prevent all worrying (you’re a parent, after all) you can alleviate many of the fears that come with the territory. All it takes is some proactive maneuvers and mindfulness on your part, long before your child applies for his or her learner’s permit.

Start when they’re around age 10. Talk about driving and other drivers when you’re shuttling your kids around. This doesn’t mean disparaging others’ driving, but rather pointing out what people are doing while you’re traveling. It does mean both you and your kids will need to unplug, look up, and engage.

Discuss that it’s important they feel comfortable about driving a car, and how much easier it will be for them once they’re behind the wheel. Ask them to tell you what they notice about the road, other drivers, signals and signs. Encourage questions. Periodically quiz them when you’re out. This playful repetition will slowly solidify the knowledge in their minds, so by the time they head off to driver’s education classes, they’ll have a confident leg up in learning.

Be mindful of your own prejudices and misconceptions about drivers of other races, genders and abilities. Expressing these while you’re driving increases chances that your teen will take these unhelpful ideas out onto the road.

Take them out to drive when they’re young. One of the best things I did with my first teen driver was taking him out early and often, to let him pilot the car in a safe environment. Weekly, we would head out to a giant empty parking lot for short, digestible lessons. I would give the lessons on mirror adjustment, seat belt, etc., and then let him sit in the driver’s seat and show me what I’d just taught him.

Once this checkpoint was passed with flying colors and evidence of solid comprehension, I would actually let him drive. With a four-acre parking lot at his disposal, he could slowly creep the car around the asphalt while I sat beside him in the passenger’s seat, encouraging and commending his successes and gently correcting mistakes. I was right there to grab the wheel and the emergency brake if he panicked.

Communication during this process is essential. Ask them what the car feels like as they make their slow turns, Encourage them to tell you what they feel as they maneuver. The best drivers in the world, such as NASCAR drivers, have a strong connection to the car they’re driving. They can almost tell what it’s going to do before it does it, and they finesse it like an experienced rider guides her horse. Encouraging this sort of connection early serves several purposes: it can help prevent future overcorrections that can cause rollover accidents. And it helps your young driver develop confidence with piloting two-tons of metal, fostering a tendency to always pay attention behind the wheel.

Knowing that your teen possesses these skills can lessen your worries once they’re solo on the road. And if you keep calm and steady while you’re in the passenger seat – this means no panicked yelling or harsh criticizing – then you’ll boost their confidence even more and help them develop that same calm, alert manner while on the road for real.

Practicing a little at a time puts your teenager at a huge advantage. Not only for skills and confidence, but when they’re in driver’s education class, they might really be able to pay attention to the hundreds of rules they have to learn. Instead of being overwhelmed at the thought of it all, your kid might be eager to learn as much as she can, because she’s already been driving with you for a few years in that big empty parking lot.

Buy some cheap traffic cones for a mini-driving course as skills and confidence increase. My son was backing into parking spaces and taking turns that would keep a water glass level on the dashboard, years before he went to driver’s ed.

One last thing: you’re their example. If you stay alert, off your phone and demonstrate safe driving, it’s likely your teen will, too.

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