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10 Things Not to Say when Teaching Your Kid to Drive

Getting your teens ready for their driving test can seem like a daunting task.
Getting your teens ready for their driving test can seem like a daunting task.
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Inviting your teens to take the wheel might seem like a daunting (or even downright terrifying) undertaking best left to experienced driver's education instructors. But the fact of the matter is, it's vitally important for parents to step up and play a role while their teens are learning to drive.

How serious is it? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2009, about 3,000 teenagers died in traffic accidents on U.S. streets, and parents can play a big part in reducing that fatality rate. So on the next several pages we'll discuss things you don't want to say to your teens while they're training to get their driver's licenses, as well as what you should actually say to get it right. But perhaps even more importantly, we'll discuss some of the habits parents might unwittingly practice while behind the wheel themselves -- since when you're training a teen, every action is up for scrutiny.

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Don't lose your cool. Just stay composed and guide her through it.
Don't lose your cool. Just stay composed and guide her through it.
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Teaching teens how to drive can be an incredibly nerve-racking experience, but it's important to stay calm and engaged throughout each lesson. You want to develop their confidence behind the wheel, so teach them without judging or making them feel flustered or embarrassed. Learning to drive is a big milestone in teenagers' lives, and you want to make it a special process rather than a stressful one.

You may want to leave the first few lessons to professionals who are better prepared to handle unpredictable developments, but after that, parents should log lots of hours in the car with their teens. It not only provides a means to demonstrate that you care about your kids' development, it also offers a scheduling window for some great bonding sessions which teens might not otherwise want to take the time for. Plan these driving sessions in advance, both in terms of the location and the skills you'd like to see improved.

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This loaded statement certainly violates our rule that driving lessons be fun and constructive, but it also relates to something parents might not automatically take into consideration: Teen brains are underdeveloped in several regions key to safe driving, including decision-making centers and regions that help dictate impulse control.

Operating a vehicle is complicated, so you can't expect teens to have automatically picked up on your driving technique, or to understand why some driving practices are good versus bad. It's important to make sure they receive plenty of practice and coaching, during which you praise their successes (even the little things like a skillful turn or a well-timed merge) and have patience with their mistakes. And remember: Clear communications, consistent explanations and timely instructions are crucial. You don't want to do anything to add confusion, fear or even panic to an already challenging situation.

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If he's smiling and buckled, smile right back.
If he's smiling and buckled, smile right back.
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So you probably won't say this one, but you might do it. Wearing a seatbelt is crucial for driver safety, so make absolutely sure you buckle up every time, and get your teens in the habit, too. You also want to train them to reposition the seat, adjust the mirrors, set the temperature and kill the tunes every time they get behind the wheel and before they hit the road, but the seatbelt is the most important consideration out of all of these. You always want to double-check whether your teens are consistently wearing their seatbelts, and enforce this rule with any passengers you've authorized them to have.

Once your teens have the basics down pat, don't shirk from practicing driving under less-than-ideal circumstances. Your teens need to be trained to drive at night, in heavy traffic and during poor weather. You want your teens prepared for any driving situation they may encounter.

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Pictured: Setting a bad example.
Pictured: Setting a bad example.
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This one also involves both saying and doing. That's because you can lecture your kids all you want on the dangers of talking or texting while driving, but if you interrupt that rant to take a call of your own, you're setting a terrible example.

Teen drivers often think they're invincible, and you need to gently help them understand that's not the case. Talking or texting while driving is very dangerous, and teens don't have the ability to multitask competently in this manner, although they'll likely disagree. So to set a good example, both you and your teens should shut off any electronic devices upon entering a vehicle. Messages, be they text or voice mail, will be waiting when everyone arrives safely at their destination. Driver distractions must be kept to a minimum.

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While teaching teens to drive, stress how important it is to understand local traffic laws thoroughly. This can be a good process for parents, too, since chances are they've gotten a little rusty on some of the finer points of traffic law in the years since they first earned their driver's licenses.

Also enforce (and obey) all those little rules you might slouch on if your teens weren't in the car. For example, use your blinkers at every turn, make full and complete stops at all stop signs, check your blind spots before any lane changing, slow down when you spot potential hazards ahead and make sure you don't follow anyone too closely. Keep an eye on sloppy turns, too, making sure you never unnecessarily cross into another lane of traffic, and don't back up without looking.

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Teach your teens to respect the yellow's message: If it's safe, then stop.
Teach your teens to respect the yellow's message: If it's safe, then stop.
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Yellow lights give drivers a heads up when a traffic light is about to change to red. If you're too close -- or driving too fast -- you can avoid slamming on the brakes. But you don't want your teens always trying to race through yellow lights, because it's a very dangerous practice. If they're able to stop safely, that's the better option.

And then there are no-no's such as speeding and tailgating. Ideas like "the speed limit is just a suggestion" and "no cop, no stop" should never be uttered around teen drivers. Instruct teens to obey the law even if no officers are around, to resist the urge to tailgate or pressure other drivers, and to maintain a safe distance from objects around them at all times. Explain how safe following distances lengthen during poor driving conditions, and it's also worth mentioning why it's bad to vary speed unpredictably.

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Teach your teen driver to always be alert for surprises on the road.
Teach your teen driver to always be alert for surprises on the road.
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Gaming fans might joke about how many points a potential "target" would be worth, especially if they're in the way, driving poorly or committing some other traffic faux pas, but since you want to instill a sense of respect for life and limb in your teenagers' minds, keep these kinds of wisecracks to yourself.

This relates closely to road rage. Road rage is dangerous because it makes drivers impulsive, and impulsive drivers often make bad decisions (which, if you remember from an earlier page, is already part and parcel to teenage driving).

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Teach your teenagers methods to keep their cool and not react even if a fellow driver or plodding pedestrian is angering them. Parents should also point out examples of road rage and advise their teens on the best ways to avoid these menacing motorists. Better to let them pass than increase their wrath.

Even just one teenage friend is a serious distraction.
Even just one teenage friend is a serious distraction.
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Teen drivers should be encouraged to avoid carrying teen passengers -- possibly the biggest driving distraction they'll face -- as much as possible.

Unfortunately, it can be hard to get it through adolescent skulls that their freshly minted driver's licenses aren't actually free passes to drive around however and with whomever they want.

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It's exciting as high schoolers slowly start to acquire their licenses. Younger members of a group of friends as well as those without cars will likely plot with your teen concerning all the adventures and escapades they'll be able to enjoy now, but you need to hit the brakes on these schemes. Discuss with your teen how many passengers are acceptable and whether anyone strikes you as particularly troubling in terms of driver distraction.

It might seem natural for parents to expect that once their teens are licensed it's the end of the process, but that's not a safe assumption to make. It actually tends to take much longer (often six months to more than a year) for teens to hone their defensive driving skills and develop the safe habits it takes to successfully navigate all the curveballs that might come their way on the road. Then there are also incidents of peer pressure to contend with -- whether that's encouraging a fellow teen to race or mocking his or her careful habits. Lessons concerning safe driving habits should definitely be reinforced continually by parental oversight and participation.

Maybe they've started rolling through stop signs, begun skipping their seatbelts or stopped checking their blind spots -- remind them that such behavior is unacceptable. Crafting a parent-teen driving contract is a good idea, too. It can include best practices you want them to follow, promises you want them to make and penalties for any violations they incur.

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Curfews might serve to reassure parents that their teens will return home safe and in a timely fashion, but there are times when a curfew can cause more harm than good. No parent (we hope!) is thrilled by the idea that their kids might experiment with drugs and alcohol, but that said, any punishments you plan to dole out can wait until morning. Either pick them up or allow them to spend the night if they can't drive home safely. The important thing is that your teenagers -- and everyone else out on the roads -- are safe and sound. So when you talk to your teens about drugs and alcohol (and if you haven't yet, what are you waiting for?), also discuss contingency plans for if they do partake.

It's also important to spell out for them how some medications -- not to mention pulling all-nighters -- can lead to dangerous levels of drowsiness. They always need to be aware of whether they're too tired to consider driving. Because while it's great that you don't need to constantly chauffer them around anymore, that doesn't mean you're now always off the hook. But by saying the right things and enforcing your rules, you'll have a much safer feeling when you see your teens pull out of the driveway.

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Sources

  • DriversEd.com Web site. (April 6, 2011) http://driversed.com/
  • "Learning to drive: a guide for parents." Drivers.com. May 16, 2000. (April 6, 2011) http://www.drivers.com/article/218/
  • "Teen Drivers." CDC Web site. (April 6, 2011) http://www.cdc.gov/Motorvehiclesafety/Teen_Drivers/index.html
  • "Teen Driving Resources." Geico.com Web site. (April 6, 2011) http://www.geico.com/information/safety/auto/safety-library/teen-driving-resources/
  • Steinberg, Laura. "Expert Advice for Parents About Teen Driving." Edmonds.com. March 3, 2011. (April 6, 2011) http://www.edmunds.com/car-safety/expert-advice-for-parents-about-teen-driving.html
  • "The AAA Guide to Teen Driver Safety." AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Web site. (April 6, 2011.) http://teendriving.aaa.com/GA/
  • "Training Kit." SafeTeenDrivering.org Web site. (April 6, 2011) http://www.safeteendriving.org/partners/training.php

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