How to be the best driving instructor for your teen

There aren’t many parenting experiences that are as nerve-wracking as being in the passenger seat while your teen learns to drive. You’re stressed, you’re worried about your car, and their feet barely reach the pedals. When my dad began teaching me to drive he said there were only two rules – don’t hit anything and don’t let anything hit you. If you’re about to become a driving instructor and have no idea if your teen is ready, here are some simple tips to get you started.

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Step one

Play a driving video game with them and challenge them to drive for five whole minutes without crashing.

Step two

Take them to a carpark (preferably an empty one) and let them sit in the driver’s seat. Don’t actually let them drive yet – just explain where things are and what they’re called.

Step three

Take photos of them pretending to drive to boost their confidence.

Step four

Take time to learn the road code yourself. Use an app on your device. You’ll be surprised what you don’t know. You won’t believe what the legal speed is for passing a horse on a cul-de-sac while towing a trailer.

Step five

Once they are 16 and have their learner’s licence, they are ready to drive on the road with you supervising them.

The biggest challenge isn’t actually teaching your teenager how to drive, it’s working out what type of teacher you are going to be. Instructing them on how to operate the family station wagon is the easy part. How you manage your emotions and your expectations will heavily influence your teaching style. You may identify with one of these –

The yelly type

The type of parent who tends to yell a lot. This parent believes that the louder their voice is the clearer the instructions will be. The most common things they yell are, “Slow down! What are you doing? You’re going to crash!” Your kid will already be super stressed and this approach will usually escalate the tension in the car. If you remain calm, then your teenager will be less likely to freak out behind the wheel. This kind of teacher can produce drivers that lack confidence in themselves and their abilities.

The super chilled type

This is the parent who doesn’t want to upset their child because they know how exciting driving is for them. They are the teachers who are happy to sit in the passenger seat and just pick songs on the iPod for the trip.

They might offer suggestions, but only if they need to. They don’t want to enforce every single road rule and so won’t mind if the driver speeds a little or rolls through a stop sign. This student driver will believe that lots of road rules are merely guidelines and good driving is measured by how much you can get away with. They risk becoming drivers who are over-confident, under-skilled and probably won’t pass their restricted test.

The rushy type

The type of parent who is on a tight time schedule. If you’re the type of parent who is constantly trying to cook dinner while answering emails, while walking the dog while simultaneously cleaning golden syrup off your cat’s paws, then you might not have a lot of spare time. If you don’t have a lot of time, then it’s important to make time. Otherwise your teenager will learn to drive under heaps of pressure in the limited amount of practice time they get. Your child won’t have a lot of options for other driving instructors and needs as much focused attention as possible. This student will either be inexperienced for a long time or they will find someone else who can teach them. It might be someone like a driving instructor. But if you don’t make time, it could be a guy at school called Corey who reckons he’s done it heaps of times and only been to court once.

The coach type

This is the type of parent who is a combination of all the other types. They don’t set their expectations so high that the teenager is set up to fail. The expectations aren’t so low that their kid doesn’t try. They create time in their schedule to focus on teaching driving. Coaches understand that teenagers aren’t completely inept but still need a lot of supervision when operating a ton of metal that can travel over 100kmh. They have a pre-game talk where they set the expectations for the lesson.

They understand that learning one thing per lesson is a good result. They can see mistakes as learning opportunities and they challenge their teenager to name hazards on the road as they drive. When the coach is in the passenger seat, they are calm and encouraging. Ultimately, this isn’t just about completing a task, but it’s an opportunity to build relationship. This style of teaching produces a teenager who is confident and skilled behind the wheel.

The coach type is obviously the type of teacher every parent aims to be, but it’s easy to slip into your default modes. Learning to drive is a rite of passage for teenagers and they actually can’t do it without you. Planning on what type of teacher you want to be can make this experience so much better for both of you. Spending all that quality time together while they learn to drive can be one the best opportunities during adolescence to develop your relationship together.


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