Teach Your Under-Age Teen to Drive
Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson
Health, Wellness, & Safety
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If you’re the parent of a new driver – a teen somewhere between the ages of 16 and 18 – you’ve noticed there’s an awful lot of information your kid needs to learn in order to be safe on the road. And even though most states have instituted graduated license laws, to keep the youngest drivers out of the most dangerous situations, auto accidents still are a leading cause of death and injury in the teen years.
Parents of teen drivers have to uphold the limits of a child’s license, and not permit driving at night, driving with lots of passengers, or keeping the cell phone on while driving. You’ve got to be strict to get your point across. And you’ve got to model good driving yourself. There’s not much more you can do.
But if you’re the parent of a young teen, you’ve got a few more options. The time to teach your child to drive is long before she’s old enough to sit behind the wheel. Here are some ways to do that:
1. Talk out loud about your decision-making. As you drive past a line of parked cars, say that you’re watching out for people who might open a car door unexpectedly. When you notice brake lights ahead of you, tell how that alerts you to slow down. You make a lot of automatic decisions that your pre-teen has no knowledge of. Share that knowledge.
2. Be explicit about the rules of driving. When you come to a four-way stop, tell what the rule is for how to proceed. Talk about the rule of pulling over when an emergency vehicle approaches. Talk about the meaning of different road signs. Be observant of the rules yourself and don’t give the impression that observing these is optional.
3. Let your child be your co-pilot. Assuming your child is big enough to sit in the passenger seat safely, let him ride shotgun and help make driving decisions. The teen who never sat in the front seat before sitting in the driver’s seat has a huge gap in his understanding. Give your young teen the advantage of years of “job shadowing” of an experienced driver.
4. Model good driving practices. If you tend to drive over the speed limit, now is the time to slow down. If you’re tempted to use your cell phone, now is the time to pull over before using picking it up. If you often drive aggressively, say rude things about other drivers, or try to “teach other people a lesson” stop, stop, stop while your kid is in the car. Being a parent is about being a better person than you’ve ever been before and that’s never so true as now, when you’re trying to demonstrate how to drive.
Make no mistake: under no circumstance should you actually let your under-age child drive a car, not even to the end of a long driveway to get the mail. Waiting makes the privilege of driving more sweet and enforces the seriousness of operating a potentially-deadly machine.
But waiting to teach your child to drive until she’s actually old enough for a learner’s permit limits the time available to teach all you’d like her to know. Give yourself more time. Start teaching your child to drive right now.
© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.