The thought of getting a driver’s license is thrilling to teens. To most parents, it’s terrifying. Attached to the little paper that brings wheels and freedom to your child is an expanded list of worries for you. Not only are all the other drivers on the road a colossal safety hazard, but, in addition to merely operating a car, your distractible teen has to learn how to manage driving. Today’s technologically advanced vehicles come equipped with every distraction imaginable. Did you know that new Bluetooth enabled models flash incoming emails on the GPS screen?
The mom of a 17 year old shared the story of taxi-ing her newly minted driver-daughter and a friend to a party. After the mom stopped at the corner sign, the friend exclaimed, “Wow! You came to a full stop. My mom always rolls through them.”
Your kids learn to how drive long before they are learning to drive. In the same way that you model behaviors of all kinds, so do you teach your child how be safe on the road, how to operate a lethal weapon called a car, and how to be a driver.
The mandatory driving lessons and practice time behind the wheel teach a teen how to operate the vehicle. But how does she learn driving behaviors and habits, ones that will help keep her safe on the road? These are the lessons that your child starts absorbing as soon as she can climb into his car seat all by herself.
For anyone who drives with a child in the car, there are five particular areas that are worthy of your attention, whether your child is 4 years or 14…because is he watching.
- Obey all the traffic rules. Sounds obvious, I know. But if you are in the habit of rolling through that stop sign, if you make risky left turns, if you speed up to make it through the yellow light, guess what you are teaching your one-day-to-be driver? You can preach the importance of obeying the traffic rules, but your own rule-following teaches the real lesson.
- Never drink and get behind the wheel. Everyone knows this one, and evidence shows that a parent’s admonitions, real life examples of resultant tragedies, and the parent’s own modeling are all crucial teachers. But if it’s okay for you to have just one glass of wine and then drive, it will be okay for your child to do the same. Don’t do it. And in front of your child, state that Mommy is not driving because I had a beer.
- Do not touch your handheld device. Even in Bluetooth enabled cars, drivers are distracted by their smart phones—texting, locating numbers, looking at calendars while driving. Your kids are watching you. Even if you text at a stoplight, not only are you tempting fate, but you are shouting the message that it is okay to do so. Don’t…ever!
- Driving is not hands free. Men shave in the car; women put on makeup with one hand. My husband saw a man practicing with drum sticks on the steering wheel as he drove. A mom admitted to me, “I totaled a car because I was eating as I drove.” Don’t model multi-tasking while driving. Your children need to see you give 100% of your attention and all of your body to the task at hand: driving.
- Drive patiently. Even those of us who are challenged by patience, must cultivate a driver personality that embraces it. Road rage leads nowhere good. Honking, calling other drivers names, berating the woman who cut you off is not likely the driver personality you want your child to imitate.
Parenting a child who drives a car requires a kind of trust and letting go for which nothing can prepare you. You can’t control the world—all the other drivers— in order for your child to be safe. But by your own driving behavior, you can teach your child to be a sane and smart driver, a lesson he will not learn in driving school. It’s not too soon. Start now.