Hitting the Road: How to Deal with a Teen Driver in the House



One of the best days of a teen’s life is simultaneously one of the worst for a parent: driver’s license day. It’s inevitable—Independence Day is here. While parents enjoy some benefits—no more back and forth to soccer practice!—the worry and anxiousness associated with a teen driver seemingly can outweigh the positives by a thousand to one.

But not to worry. We have some great tips for worried parents to help their teen successfully make the important transition from professional hitchhiker to defensive driver smoothly, seamlessly and, most importantly, safely.

Eliminate distractions

Phones and texting are part of our world, but they should never, ever, be a part of your teen’s driving experience. Make it abundantly clear that when the car is in motion, the phone is in the glove box or back seat, out of reach. No exceptions. Drive—pun intended—the point home that the moments before the car is in motion, your teen has the all clear to text you that she’s coming or going. But the moment the gear shift is in “D,” your teen’s hands are on the wheel with her eyes on the road. Unfortunately, you probably will catch her breaking this rule at one point or another. Make the consequence severe enough that she won’t repeat the offense again. It’s truly the difference between life and death.

It goes for you, too

Teens learn by example. If you’ve ever texted while driving, you can bet your driver’s license that your teen has seen you do it. Now is the time to establish that, yes, you have had moments of unsafe driving, and it isn’t any okay. Recommit now to yourself and your child that you will set a good example and put your phone away, too. This is not the time to pull the “do as I say, not as I do” card. In fact, ask your teen to police you on the rule as well and make the reward for her catching you a good one. It gives both of you accountability.

Fender bender pro

According to DoSomething.org, one in five 16-year-old drivers will have an accident within their first year of driving. Prepare him now with a checklist of what to do if he’s in an accident. Remind him where the insurance and registration are and give tips on how to de-escalate a situation if the other driver should be aggressive.  Most importantly, reiterate that if a fender bender were to happen after dark, it’s perfectly okay to stay in the car and contact the police (make sure he has the number saved in his phone). For peace of mind, consider getting roadside assistance from a company like AAA for flat tires. While you may have shown your teen how to change one, the chances that he will remember on the first go are less than stellar.

Busted

Blue and red lights in the rearview mirror are an intimidating moment for even the most accomplished driver. If your teen is pulled over, encourage him to remain calm, keep his hands on the wheel and treat the officer with respect, even if he feels the offense is innocuous. If a citation is given, don’t even think about paying the bill yourself. Your teen broke the law and must pay the consequences. Based on the offense’s severity, it might also be a good time to reevaluate whether he’s ready to hit the road again immediately, or whether it’s time to take the keys away. Driving is a privilege, and if your teen can’t show he’s ready for it, that privilege should be revoked.

Be firm, be consistent

Having keys to a vehicle may feel like a very grown-up status, but your teen must remember that you control the car. Lay ground rules early (good grades, keeping up on chores) that will put her access to the car in check. Most importantly, you must adhere to a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to abusing privileges relative to the car. It’s up to you how severe you make penalties for things like texting and driving or eating and driving, but make sure you stick to your guns. Your child must respect you, the road and everyone on it. The last thing you want is for your teen to be an unfortunate statistic.

Are they ready?

Don’t rely on driver’s ed. Go out with your teen and have him perform the following tasks for you before you hand over the keys:

  • Parallel parking
  • Backing into a parking spot
  • Maneuvering a round-about
  • Entering/exiting a highway
  • Driving down a one-way street (head to a downtown area for this if you can)

Kim Antisdel is a freelance writer and interior design sales rep for KC. She lives in Liberty with her husband, stepdaughters and toddler son.

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