Teaching a teenager to drive seems like a perfect reason for a father to go medieval on their child. After all, driving is a far more dangerous activity today than it was just a decade ago. That doesn’t mean you have to hide the keys to the station wagon until they turn 21. With some clear communication and realistic expectations, teaching your teen to drive won’t have to require future therapy.
Every father has to accept the reality that if you want to teach your teen to drive safely, you will have to be the bad guy. It is inevitable because most teens will break many of the rules of driving, and you will have to be the enforcer. Do not look the other way if you discover your teen is speeding or driving distracted. They might hate you for a little while for cracking down, but you could save their life.
It is important that your teen knows the rules and consequences. If you take the lead in teaching your teen, make it clear that the wrong actions behind the wheel will trigger punishment. Failing to use a seat belt, breaking traffic laws, violating curfew and texting while driving must all have a consequence. Take away the keys for a week for a willful violation but punish them for a day for a forgetful mistake. It will be hard for your teen to argue if they know the punishment in advance.
Know the law. Laws vary from state to state, but it is important that a father knows them. Some states do not allow teens to drive with other teens in the car while they have a permit. Other states ban the use of cell phones. Since a traffic cop can’t always be there, you may have to step in and ensure your teen isn’t breaking the law.
Know your teen’s maturity level. You will know if your teen is ready to drive based on their attitude and maturity level. If your daughter spends more time checking herself out in the rearview mirror than checking out the road, you have some problems. If your son has a lead foot and wants to drive around aimlessly to show off, it’s time to break out the short leash.
Expect to explain why. Most of us remember our parents laying down the law, and when we questioned them why, they usually answered, “Because I said so.” Unfortunately, the “my way or the highway” stance doesn’t fly with today’s teens, and didn’t with our generation, either. When you set rules for your teen’s driving privileges, be ready to explain why. Explain that other drivers have little consideration for those around them, and it takes time to learn how to share the road with them. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground. Too often, fathers want to “be a friend” when teaching a teen to drive. It doesn’t work. If you have to be the bad guy, have a good reason handy.
Just say no to technology. When you ride shotgun with your teen behind the wheel, you might get an idea of how they handle all of the latest gadgets at their disposal. Cell phones and iPods can be a teen’s worst enemy while driving. A Pew research survey found that 43 percent of driving teens have used their cell phone while driving, and 26 percent have texted while driving. Worse yet, 48 percent said they were in a car where the driver was texting while driving. Distracted driving is now the Number 1 cause of teen fatalities in automobile accidents. Do not understate the importance of keeping cell phones put away to your teen. Instead of searching for a song on an iPod while driving, tell your teen to set a playlist and leave it alone.
Fast and furious drivers. Movies have popularized street racing and the practice of drifting, which has led to a rise in crashes and fatalities by teens (mostly boys) who think they are as invincible as Vin Diesel. If your teen wants to customize his car in wild colors and racing stripes, sit him down and talk about the dangers of street racing.
Even if you have an open, honest relationship with your teen, chances are you will butt heads over driving privileges at some point. Stand your ground, because today’s roads are hazardous and having your teen ready to deal with them is the best thing you can do as a parent. Give them the chance to earn their independence and reward good driving. Pretty soon, your child will be stuck in traffic on the way to work, wondering why they were in such a big rush to get behind the wheel in the first place.