If you have a son or daughter who’s approaching the legal driving age, I don’t envy you.
Why? Because you’ll soon be facing the Driving Issue. You know what I mean. Your kid will be taking driver’s education or you’ll teach him or her yourself.
Either way, you’ll have to ride in the front seat as your child practices driving. Talk about nerve-wracking – for both of you. You’re hoping your teenager doesn’t wreck your car. And your kid is hoping to demonstrate some driving competency to increase the chance of driving solo.
I remember when my daughter, who is now 28, learned to drive. She wound up in tears, and I wound up with high blood pressure. I made the mistake of having her learn with a stick shift instead of an automatic transmission.
I had learned to drive with a stick (on a faded green 1974 Capri), and so I figured Elyse could master the manual transmission too. Bad assumption. During driver’s ed, she drove an automatic. But when it came time to do her practice driving with me, I could only offer an older VW Jetta with a stick.
She struggled mightily with working the clutch in conjunction with the gear shift on the floor. Over and over, the car bucked violently, as if possessed by an evil spirit. Elyse also had trouble getting the shifter in the proper gear. The result: loud, persistent grinding. I kept expecting the entire transmission to drop onto the pavement.
We practiced in a large grocery store parking lot. I’m sure the customers pitied me and empathized with Elyse as they saw our travail.
“I quit!” she said more than once.
“You’re going to get it,” I said, trying to remain calm. “It’s OK.”
My daughter finally learns
After several practice sessions on the parking lot, for what seemed like an eternity, Elyse was ready to hit the streets. She surprised me, and I think herself, by doing well. Unlike me, she didn’t have a wreck in her first year of driving.
My first accident wasn’t just a fender bender. I was leaving the school parking lot, fiddling with my radio, when I plowed into the back of a parked car driven by a classmate. Thankfully, neither he nor I suffered any serious injuries. But both our cars were totaled.
Amazingly, my friend was incredibly gracious about the loss. We even managed to joke about the accident during our remaining two years of high school.
My parents, however, found it more difficult to laugh about it. I’m sure their insurance premiums went up, although they never mentioned it. I’m sure they worried themselves sick as I drove after the accident.
Fortunately, I didn’t have another wreck until many years later.
The subject of teenage driving is on my mind because a friend is now teaching his 15-year-old son. I hesitate to ask him how it’s going, but his wife tells me not so well. My friend is not a patient man, and his son is a cocky know-it-all. That’s a combustible combination when it comes to learning to drive.
Tips for teaching your kids to drive
Do I have any advice for teaching your child to drive? Yes. Don’t make them learn on a stick shift. As for other advice, I did some research.
“Although many kids still take some formal driver-education training before they get their driver’s license, the most influential training they receive comes from observing their parents’ behind-the-wheel skills, judgment, and behavior,” according to this article on FamilyEducation.com.
Translation: If you’re a good driver, your child is more likely to be a good driver.
The article also recommends at least 40 hours of supervised driving, although most states require only six, it says.
“It’s a rare parent who can teach his teen to drive without experiencing some anxiety,” writes Carleton Kendrick, a family therapist.
He says some parents simply aren’t patient enough to teach their child to drive.
“If you can’t keep your anxiety in check and it’s turning the teaching experience into a tension-filled meltdown zone, do your child and yourself a favor and hand over the teacher’s role to another family member, a trusted adult, or a professional driving,” Carleton writes.
The web is full of driving advice for parents. One option: Buy instructional software that both you and your child can use.
TeachYourKidHowToDrive.com offers 10 tips parents should stress with their teen driver. They include driving defensively, maintaining a safe speed and ensuring that everyone in the car is wearing a seat belt.
“Some parents shudder at the thought of having to teach their kid how to drive,” the site says.
You may shudder too, but you can maintain your sanity by preparing yourself for the experience. If you remain calm, your child will learn to drive more easily.
And you’ll both avoid the “tension-filled meltdown zone.”
Enroll your child in driver’s ed classes if possible. He or she will probably get better instruction than you could offer, and the teacher will probably be more patient than you. Still, you can’t avoid riding with your son or daughter entirely. Don’t be surprised if both you and your child are nervous. Just remember, you were once a beginning driver yourself.