By the end of the summer, both of our kids will have their driver licenses. As parents, we are excited both for our children to have more independence and freedom and for ourselves, as we will no longer have to build our schedules around picking up our teenagers from school and chauffeuring them to extracurricular activities or social events.
Yes, family life is going to be simpler, as we will no longer have to coordinate our children’s transportation needs. We also realize, however, that our parental anxiety is going to amplify as we worry about our children’s safety. Twenty percent of all new drivers have a fender bender during their first year on the road, and more than half of all high school students will have a car crash before graduation.
Although it is true that many automobile mishaps occur because of passenger interaction, cellphone engagement and distracted driving, teens’ crashes most often occur because young drivers lack road experience, according to the National Safety Council. Newly licensed motorists find it difficult to judge gaps in traffic, to drive the right speed for current conditions and to pay attention to their surroundings.
Many adults will often ask their children to sign safe-driving contracts to ensure that teens make good driving decisions. While this is a well-intentioned thought, a better idea is to have collaborate interactions with your young driver about automobile accountability. An AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study found that kids are more likely to use common sense and obey road rules when parents provide clear guidelines.
Mom and dad should have regular and ongoing conversations with their teenagers about driving expectations. Discuss big issues such as geographic boundaries, local laws and, of course, drinking and driving; also outline communication expectations, the number of allowed passengers and general responsibilities. Specifics are important but an open dialogue that creates responsibility and teaches good decision-making is much better than a rigid agreement.
Also, consider installing a location/safe-driving app such as Life360 on your child’s phone. In addition to pinpointing where your teen is, apps like that provide safety information such as how fast your teenager is driving or how hard he or she is braking. Should you feel your child is being unsafe, don’t yell; rather, calmly ask your teen what he or she needs to do to improve driving skills.
Lastly, don’t forget to talk with your kids about car maintenance. A mechanical mishap can be just as dangerous as an accident. All drivers, not just teens, should check gas levels every time the car is started and continually monitor oil, brake fluid and windshield cleaner levels.
Most important, be a good example. Kids model adults and they are watching your behind-the-wheel behaviors. Wear seat belts, obey the law and pull over when you use the phone. Driving is a privilege for both parents and teens.
Prior to going into private practice as a psychotherapist and learning-disabilities specialist, Russell Hyken, Ph.D., Ed.S., M.A., LPC, NCC, worked for more than 15 years as an English teacher, school counselor and school administrator. Visit him online at ed-psy.com.