How parents can set the perfect example
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 basic maneuvers 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. The parent-child dynamic during driving lessons is a challenge on its own. Here are some teaching tips to keep the peace:
- Stay calm. 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.
- Plan a lesson each time you go out with your teen. Discuss the day’s goals before you leave the driveway, and practice on quiet and busy roads and in diverse weather conditions. Be open to coaching through difficult scenarios.
- Start slow. Big, empty parking lots make a great place for your teen to master the basics before driving onto main roads. And when it comes to adult supervision requirements, all logged hours are created equal.
- Lead by example. As both a driver and a coach, eliminate distractions. Turn off your cell phone so you can focus on giving sound advice and helping the driver understand and obey traffic laws.
- Stick to driving. 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.
- Ditch the criticism. Maintain a normal speaking voice and offer specific feedback. 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 become, “I feel stressed when your raise your voice.”
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.
For more tips and lesson ideas, see the Washington State Department of Licensing's online booklet, "The Parent's Supervised Driving Program."