Teaching Your Teen to Drive

These dos and don'ts will help you ensure your teen learns the driving skills he needs.
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Life Lessons

Teaching someone driving skills covers more than just the basics -- such as steering, signaling, merging, and braking. You want to help your teen learn to exercise good judgment and be responsible behind the wheel, so that he's able to meet the challenges his instructor -- and, later, a lifetime of driving -- will present to him.

Behind the Wheel: Dos and Don'ts

DO make sure your teen knows where and what the day's driving lesson will be. "This afternoon, we're going to drive to the hilly part of town and practice parallel parking on a slope." Having (and knowing) a plan will reduce anxiety for both you and your child.

DON'T take your teen out on the road for her first lesson. Start in a big, empty parking lot where she can master the basics without pressure. Slowly work your way from one challenge to the next, moving from quiet avenues to city streets to heavily trafficked areas, and finally, to freeways and highways. Be sure your teen is competent and confident at each level before going to the next (especially if you are teaching your teen on a standard shift).

DO point out what your teen is doing well: "Great job remembering to check your rearview mirror while you drive!" Praise specific improvements, and offer encouragement for those areas that still need work: "The more you practice, the more you'll get used to checking your side-view mirrors, too."

DON'T saddle your teen with negative labels or predictions: "You're such a careless driver! You're going to hit another car if you don't pay better attention." Avoid talking down to her, or treating her as if she is a child.

DO raise your teen's awareness of his mistakes, but do so without shaming or criticizing him. Asking non-judgmental questions such as, "Are you remembering to check your blind spot before switching lanes?" is much more effective than screaming, "For God's sake, don't you see that car?!"

DON'T use the time behind the wheel to nag your teen about unrelated issues. Your new driver has enough to concentrate on -- Who has the right of way? Uh-oh, pedestrian! What gear am I supposed to be in? -- without you haranguing her about the dishes she failed to do last night or the poor grade she got on her algebra quiz. Try to keep all talk in the car casual and breezy.

DO stay calm and collected during your teen's driving lessons. It's natural to be anxious when your child is behind the wheel, but if you are gasping or shrieking, clutching the door strap or thrusting your foot on an imaginary brake pedal, your anxiety will be contagious, leaving your teen too nervous to make the quick, confident decisions required of a driver. She needs to feel that you have faith in her ability. During stressful moments, focus on your breathing, inhaling and exhaling evenly. When your teen lurches to a stop, nearly slamming into the SUV in front of you, take a full breath, then count to 10, or 20, before reacting. If nothing seems to ease your anxiety, you might want to consider the following "Don'ts."

Continued on page 2:  More Dos and Don'ts


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