How to teach your Teen to Drive without ruining the Relationship

The idea of teaching your teen to drive strikes fear into the hearts of many parents, as it did us. So if you are about to embark on this challenging process, then I hope these lessons we learnt in our journey will help you to achieve success, without ruining your relationship. 

Some of what I share may apply specifically to living in South Africa, but I hope you will still find some nuggets of wisdom for your own ‘successful’ outcome.

When my daughter was a toddler, she loved play-driving in our car. She loved the bumper cars at the amusement parks and she has always loved playing racing car games with her Dad. So it came as quite a shock to discover that she was not a natural driver and did not take after her Grand-prix fan, fearless driver father. Sadly, she took more after me; a nervous, cautious driver which meant she needed countless lessons and practice, before feeling confident enough behind the wheel.

Our first attempts at teaching our daughter to drive was disastrous – despite the freedom of an empty, open car-park for safety, doing plenty of stopping, starting, turning and figure 8s. It turned out that I just made her more nervous and with all the kangaroo petrol and excessive revving, my husband unfortunately lacked the patience or compassion needed over the cruelty being done to our poor car. So needless to say, it was time to call in the experts and seek out a Driver Instructor to get the job done. However, in saying that, to save on the number of lessons needed, letting her practice in our car in-between each lesson was still vital and necessary to build her confidence.

As you begin this challenging process of teaching your teen to drive, you might want to consider the following lessons for success:- 

  1. Let your teen take the initiative about wanting to start to drive, instead of putting pressure on them as soon as they meet the age requirement. Some teens might not be mature enough or want the responsibility until they are older.
  2. Don’t be fooled to think you can teach your teenager to drive well enough to pass the South African K53 testing standard. By all means, try get them to a stage of confident driving, without all your bad habits, but the rules and passing tips are best learnt from a reputable driving instructor.
  3. If your car is not small enough for them to feel confident of passing the yard and parking tests, then do consider hiring the instructor’s car for the test and look for packages where a mock test beforehand is included.
  4. Learn to see the cost of the lessons as an investment into their success and safety as a driver, and not just as an expense, as it will soon overwhelmingly add up.
  5. Choose your driving instructor wisely, not just based on cost, but on known recommendations of success, reputable and trustworthy reviews and their personality. We chose a first lesson approach, and then committed to the cheaper package when she gave her approval.
  6. Be sure to coach your teen how to celebrate their friend’s successes despite their own failure.
  7. Teach your teen to be forgiving towards the many impatient drivers who will hoot at them or overtake them, whilst they learn to drive.
  8. Coach your teen how to overcome their failures and not give up, by motivating them with encouragement and patient, and with countless practices.
  9. The number of times you drive with your teen is more important than the amount of time in each session. In the beginning, limit your practice time to about 15 to 20 minutes. As their confidence grows, you can extend practice times.
  10. Be sure to point out driving tips and dangerous scenarios whilst you are the driver, and make sure you are being a good example.
  11. When practice driving, plan their route ahead in the area where they will be tested, to know where they will be going and what you will want them to do, making sure to point out the right lanes for changing directions at each turn.
  12. Be constantly aware of your surroundings. That 360-degree awareness is not a skill your teen may have mastered yet, so you will need to keep watching all four sides of the car. A tip is to pull down your mirror and watch the back so you don’t make it too obvious by turning.
  13. Be careful how and when you give directions and be specific. Give your teen plenty of notice when you want them to do something. For example, rather than saying “Turn left now,” say it sooner, “We will be turning left at the next block.” Also, only use the word “right” for a direction. When your teen does something well, say he did it “correctly” to avoid any confusion.
  14. If your teen is doing something wrong, be a good coach to correct them by asking questions instead of blatantly pointing it out. Rather than saying things like, “You’re going too fast” try asking “What’s the speed limit here?”
  15. Be sure to praise good performance to build up their confidence.
  16. Prepare yourself mentally to be ready and willing to sacrifice your time, be patient at all times and whatever happens, do not scream!
  17. Before making the test appointment, make sure you have sufficient ID sized photos, as they do not keep them on record, if they fail and a new application will be required each time. You can have one taken yourself using an app or at a Passport photo place and then have a full A4 page printed on photo paper at Postnet.
  18. If they do fail, don’t be tempted to change to a different testing office as practicing in the area they will be doing the test is best.
  19. Be sure you make another appointment immediately, as in some cases the waiting period can be as long as 3 months, such was the case with Milnerton.
  20. After they get their driver’s license, although they will be legal on the road, they might still be inexperienced, so don’t expect too much from them.
  21. And last but not least, pray, pray and pray some more, both for yourself on how you handle it, for your teen and for God’s peace and wisdom during the journey and His favour for them to pass.

In conclusion, next time you see a car in front of you with a L sign, please put yourself into the shoes of the frightened driver behind the wheel and show them some patience. We have all had to start somewhere.

As we now shop with excitement for our daughters first car, I pray that we will choose wisely and that it will keep her safe on the roads. I know that I will need to learn how to let go and trust God to watch over her as she drives on her own, and that she will remember all she has learnt to be a responsible and careful driver. 

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