Reminiscing on the summer of 2020 has been the theme of this week for me. Perhaps because we are well into the first week of September, or maybe because it has felt long and sun filled. Maybe, just maybe, it is because this COVID -19 thing allowed me the adventure of a lifetime – teaching my teen to drive. And now she’s off, permit in hand, heading into a new stage of independence on the route to adulthood.
You see, over the past many years, summer has meant following my daughter and her passion for dance. Not terrible by any means, as I have travelled all over the United States and enjoyed watching her train with some of the best in the industry. While this has been fantastic for her, at the same time it is a considerable sacrifice of family time, and of carefree, teenager time.
While she has loved every minute, and neither one of us would change it – this year has brought a different rhythm to our summer months. With dance travel cancelled for the foreseeable future, she had time to tackle a teenage milestone – one that probably would have been put on the back burner for months, possibly years, due to her busy schedule. And, I got to tackle one of the many adventures in parenting – teaching my teen to drive.
While I did log many hours in the car with both our boys, this experience was a little different and unexpected. With the boys, we were fitting in driving practice here and there, as time allowed between school commitments, hockey and boxing. The majority of their practice came with the instructor. I really only participated heavily in the parking coaching sessions. 🙂 In addition, the mood was different for me. There was something exciting about our boys having their licences at a time when we were SO BUSY with driving. We were looking forward to them easing the driving schedule for us just a bit. And then there’s the fact that she’s the baby. But we will address that later…
If you are starting the process, here are a few things I learned teaching my teen to drive…
Start in an empty parking lot
COVID really screwed with a lot, but it did provide no lack of empty parking lots for parents and teens to start to get the feel of the power behind driving a car. I say this, because the first time my daughter got in the car, she commented on how powerful it felt beneath her hands on the steering wheel. This is something an experienced driver takes for granted, but is something all driver training educators comment on. A vehicle has a great deal of power, and can do a lot of damage if abused. A parking lot gives your teen a chance to feel the car, learn how to gauge the gas (and the break) and the very basics we sometimes forget about.
Our sessions in parking lots this April were not lonely. I gave many a weary wave to other wide-eyed Moms sitting beside erect backed, hyper-focused teens learning to turn, back-up and make a right turn. I feel you mama.
Driver’s Ed is the bomb
As much as I was the coach to get my teen started, we relied on a professional to teach her the real meat and potatoes of driving.
Do I know how to parallel park? Yes. Park on a hill? Yes. Change Lanes? Yes.
But – I don’t know the techniques and tricks to teach it the CORRECT way. I left those details to the professionals and I was so glad I did.
Once she learned the skills through her driving instructor, it was up to us to ensure she got the practice time in.
We used AMA driver’s training – which included a “classroom” or online portion, as well as in car training. The certificate for passing helps with insurance rates, but more importantly, takes a great deal of pressure off “mom” when it comes time to go for the test. They are prepped with what to expect on a driving test, all requirements and the proper way to execute all driving maneuvers.
I found this relieving because it is one thing to complete a parallel park – it is another to verbally explain how to do it without getting into a screaming match with your daughter. Just sayin’
This is a one parent only activity
In my experience – pick one parent to do the driving with your teen. While we benefited from Driver’s Ed to teach the “basics,” the practice parent is best to be the same person. That person is aware of your teen’s skill level and comfort behind the wheel, and is able to guide based on that experience.
Why do I know this you ask? After spending many long hours with my daughter in the car, she wanted to take daddy for a drive to show him how good she was getting. Me in the front seat, daddy in the back – you see where this is going, right? No one likes a backseat driver when they HAVE their license – it’s even more confusing when they don’t. 🙂
Needless to say, much screaming (her) and a few swear words (mine), and we settled into an agreement that dad was to just enjoy the drive and the scenery.
They won’t know where they are going…
You may have driven the same route to and from school forever but they won’t have a clue how to get there when suddenly behind the wheel. Think back to all the times you chauffeured them around. Head phones, iphones, last minute homework – they have no clue how they got where they were going.
Here’s the thing – until you are a driver, you are not typically observant of the road, directions, street names etc. As much as you are teaching them the basics of driving, you are also teaching them how to get around your city. This was a bit of an exercise in frustration for me as I stared incredulously at our daughter, unable to name a street we have driven on her entire 16 years.
Be patient – they will learn. I found repeating routes over and over was great to build confidence, but throwing in a curveball a necessity. It’s one thing to know how to drive to school and back – but we also need to prepare them for the unexpected. Traffic in different areas of the city, rush hour and construction zones are all beneficial to the learning process.
Practice, Practice Practice
Every single time you need to go somewhere – have your teen drive. With our boys I was guilty of pushing them to the passenger side when I was running late. I was freakin’ impatient and their cautiousness gave me a great deal of anxiety.
The summer of COVID changed all that for me. We had very few places we HAD to be. The more experience they have in different, even sometimes difficult situations, the better and quicker they learn. The more time they spend on the road, the more experience they have with different types of drivers and driving. I learned that there were many times when my teen needed a “here’s what to do in this situation” and I felt relieved that I was there to explain.
Enforce STOP means STOP
My driving teaching career was short and not always sweet. I would like to offer a few things about temperament that every control freak, anxiety stricken parent (ie: me) could learn from. Before you let your teen behind the wheel establish that STOP means STOP – not slow down, not “talk back and tell me you are doing it right” – just STOP. This will help while you white knuckle it in the passenger seat.
The first few times I freaked after mistakes, my daughter lost all sense of common sense and did something I had never witnessed her do before. She stopped at a stop sign, counted to 3, and proceeded through without looking either right or left.
Of course, being the good mother I am, I calmly explained her mistake and we laughed and laughed.
UM – ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I absolutely lost my shit which resulted in her freaking out and hyperventilating almost the entire way home.
I needed to remember when teaching my teen to drive, that new drivers make mistakes. Hell, experienced driver’s make mistakes! I realized yelling, and creating a heated environment only leads to more error. In the end, I ended up creating a “car time out.” I’m not sure if it was more for me or her, but trust me, give it a try.
Just pull over, take a minute to collect yourself and then proceed when you are both ready.
Get ready for tears
After 50 plus hours of practice, she was ready. The excitement and nervousness of the road test was pretty extreme, compounded by the COVID regulations of sanitizing the car, and both driver and tester in masks.
While she was off doing the test, I simultaneously did two things. On the one hand, I prayed she remembered everything she learned – perform the perfect parallel park, see the playground zone, and remember to come to a complete stop. I wanted her to succeed. On the other hand, I imagined what it would be like if she did.
Time in the car together – this was our time. On the drive to and from school I heard about who was dating who. I heard what teachers she loved, and how friendships were going. On the late night drives home, in the quiet and safe darkness of the car, she shed as many tears as she did secrets. And sometimes, as we drove, I would hear nothing at all, as she selfied and snap chatted away – just an observer in her adolescence.
I expected that teaching my teen to drive would be fraught with frazzled nerves (mine) and dirty looks (hers) but I didn’t expect to feel so melancholy once it was all over. Three kids, hundreds of hours of worry. They are all off in the driver’s seat now.
And I thought teaching them to drive was the hard part 🙂
As always, comment and share your thoughts below.