3 tips to survive driving lessons with your parents

female driving car with adult passengerby Sharlyn Petit

It goes hand in hand with those awkward teenage years – teaching your 15-year old how to drive. Or, for teens, surviving mom or dad’s stress-filled driving lessons.

As it turns out, parents shine when teaching maneuvering basics like steering, parking, and controlling a car.

But, new research shows that parents should put more focus on teaching skills for accident avoidance, like how to spot and avoid potential hazards and exercise judgment in different driving conditions – the most important skills teens need according to the National Safety Council. Making left turns into oncoming traffic, merging on and off highways, and judging gaps in traffic are all good examples.

I recall a certain “free right on red” incident when I first started driving. My dad told me to follow a white car and I instead followed a white truck, completely disregarding a red light. What came after was an emotional storm of screaming, tears, and pouting in the back seat vowing never to drive again. The parent-child dynamic during driving lessons is a challenge on its own.

Here are some teaching tips to keep the peace:

  1. Stay calm (you too, parents). First, breathe. Then, prepare yourself for learning on both sides. For teens, learning to drive safely and in control is the goal. For parents, being able to calmly help teens through mistakes will help the learning process. And please, stop gripping the grab handle and dashboard after each acceleration, and pushing your foot through the floorboard with your imaginary brake at every stop sign – it’s not helping.

  2. Stick to the driving. Ask your parents to practice on both quiet and busy roads and in diverse weather conditions. And parents, be open to coach your teens through scenarios. Keep your discussions focused on how to spot potential hazards, or on the “what would you do” for different situations. Talking about how terrible your day was, report cards, or weekend plans can wait until the car is parked.

  3. Ditch the criticism. Steer away from trying to place blame, and instead ask open-ended questions to debrief driving errors. Both teens and parents should use “I” statements to describe how they feel. Example: “You’re driving too fast again,” can be replaced with, “I’m concerned when you drive above the speed limit that it will become a habit,” and, “You’re always yelling at me” can turn into, “I feel stressed when your raise your voice.” Stick to a normal speaking voice and be specific in your feedback.

There’s not a clear step-by-step textbook on teaching hazard avoidance and judgment. Only time behind the wheel will give teens the experience they need to scan and react to different situations. Listen to The Wall Street Journal’s Sue Shellenbarger discuss challenges in parent-teen driving lessons here.

Fred Summers

10/23/2015 12:13 PM

These are some great tips on helping teach new drivers. One thing I think is really important is to have communication during and before the driving lesson. Having objectives on things to work on and going over mistakes after the ride is over help lesson the crying. It really needs to be a teacher, student relationship.

Diana Strzelec

01/21/2015 05:22 PM

These are great tips to learn from!  Also, it generally is best to start with one parent only with the same vehicle prior to switching to a different parent with a different vehicle as all people and vehicles handle differently. Consistency is key.  Finally, it is best to first practice in a large parking lot when the establishment is closed/empty prior to going into the roadways with other moving vehicles!

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