How to Be a Good Passenger and Teacher to a Young Driver
How to Be a Good Passenger and Teacher to a Young Driver
attentive car driver behind the steering wheel

So the time has come, your teen is ready to get their driver’s license. For many parents this milestone elicits both feelings of excitement and dread. Guiding a teen through the process of learning to control a vehicle and navigate the roads can be rewarding and stressful for everyone involved. We created this guide to help make the process as smooth as possible.

Model Safety First

Setting a good example is one of the most important factors that will help shape your child’s road habits, and it’s one that starts long before they’re of age to start driving themselves. Children learn by observing and imitating those around them. As a parent, the habits you practice behind the wheel will leave a lasting impression on them.

Below are a few important practices to ensure you set a good example:

  • Always buckle up before driving
  • Drive with both hands on the wheel
  • Don’t drive distracted; never text or talk on the phone without a hands-free device
  • Respect the speed limit
  • Use your turn signals
  • Don’t tailgate. A good rule of thumb is to leave 3 seconds of space between you and the car in front
  • Don’t drive tired. Pull over to a safe part of the road and take a nap if you’re feeling fatigued
  • Don’t drive aggressively or give into road rage
  • Drive in the right lane except to pass
  • Never drive under the influence

Don’t Be a Distraction

Learning how to drive requires complete focus on the road. Being a supportive passenger means avoiding creating distractions, such as fiddling with the radio, texting, or engaging your child in non-driving related conversation. While it might be tempting in a moment of panic, never grab the wheel if you’re not in the driver’s seat and don’t obstruct the driver’s view.

Teach Initiative

While important, the complexities of driving can’t be learned from studying the manual. It takes many hours of practice and experience reacting to real-life situations to get comfortable behind the wheel. A good teacher prepares a new driver to anticipate problems before they occur and spots teachable opportunities as they arise.

Be Mindful of Your Instructions

Rather than always instructing your teen driver what to do, encourage them to make their own judgements, ask questions and take responsibility for their decisions. Instead of framing feedback as “You’re going too fast,” try and teach using questions. ‘What’s the speed limit here?’ is less likely to cause defensiveness and will help teach your child to be aware of their surroundings.

When you are giving direction, make sure you give the driver plenty of time to react and try to keep your instructions specific, clear and simple.

Don’t Let Your Guard Down

Driving can be extremely nerve-racking for a new driver and things can change in a second. As a teacher, it’s important to be as focused on your surroundings as the driver is and prepared to give quick, calm instructions if the situation changes.

Learning Doesn’t Have to End When the Lesson Does

Even when your child isn’t behind the wheel, you can help get them into the mindset of driving by narrating your thought process while they’re in the car. Say things like “I’m putting my signal on now to turn,” and “I’m slowing down since the cars ahead have their brake lights on.”

Keep Your Cool

Teaching a teen to drive can be a test of patience, but nothing will escalate a situation faster than raising your voice. A calm driver requires a calm instructor and getting frustrated will only ensure that they won’t want to get back in the car with you. In moments of tension, take some deep breaths or a break instead of letting your emotions get the best of you.

Approach Teaching as a Two-Way Street

At the end of the day, everyone learns differently and at different speeds. You might be the teacher, but taking this opportunity to learn about your child will help make it a better experience for everyone.

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