4 Helpful Tips for Driving with Teens

I now officially have a licensed teenage driver and let me tell you, it’s been a trip getting here!

Many of us probably remember being excited and anxious to drive. Dreaming of how cool and independent it would make us — even if we had to drive a minivan to school.  

Reluctant to Start

Fast-forward to 2021 and my son was getting his permit. Enthused was NOT the word I would use to describe how he was feeling. I’m sure that in his mind, it was something to do for future him. Not anytime in the near future, but in a more faraway and distant future. Probably as an adult.

Sometimes being the oldest in your class has its perks; but also the thought of my 8th grader behind the wheel of a car was terrifying. 

But even so, a few days after J received his permit, I could not WAIT to take him out to drive. I was filled with excitement and elation. He was filled with fear and trepidation. 

We took the car he would be driving and motored around the SCHEELS Arena parking lot. It was a huge learning moment for both of us.

I realized that I am a terrible driver’s ed teacher. I let 20 minutes pass before noticing J did not have his seat belt buckled.

J realized that he was unwilling to drive over 10 mph. After about an hour we called it a day and chatted about what it meant to drive.

Driving Concerns

I began by asking him what made him nervous about driving. He was anxious about actually being behind the wheel of a car. Which I completely understood; realizing you are controlling a giant metal machine can be intimidating.

His other concerns included other drivers, being a good driver, and the sheer responsibility of driving. I appreciated that he was open and honest with me.

I assured him that our expectations were simple: take as long as you need and want to learn. We didn’t expect him to rush to get his license. There was no pressing need, and so it didn’t matter if he got his license at 16 or 18. We wanted him to feel confident and comfortable behind the wheel.

As excited as I was to teach him how to drive, I also knew there were elements of my Type A personality that would make it difficult. For example, I didn’t teach either of my kids to ride a bike, I just freaked out and lost all sense of patience. 

Getting Assistance

We asked our neighbors and friends for advice, then signed up for driver’s ed and behind the wheel with Elite Steering Driving School. It was a relief to have an outside figure giving constructive criticism and useful feedback. And as parents it was great receiving printed information that told us what they covered, where they drove, and what should be practiced.

Where it got kind of spicy is the day I was told they went driving on the highway for the first time. With a bit of horror and a giant sense of dread, I realized that between me and my husband, it would be my responsibility to take him on the highway.  

Hitting the Highway

Our first foray onto the highway was NOT great. At first we wanted our son to drive the car he’d be “inheriting” all the time. After this day, that was no longer the case. At this stage in driving my son was still terrified to go the speed limit (I’m pretty sure he went 50 the entire time). Also, he was very much in the stage where the way his head turned the car turned. And I had to try so hard to stay calm, cool and collected. Fifteen minutes later after some slight cursing, white-knuckled fear, and deep breathing from me, we arrived at our destination. And I said to my son, “Next time we are taking my new car that has all the fancy bells and whistles, that will be safer.” 

Best decision ever. I feared less for my life on the highway.

Building Confidence

After his freshman year of high school, he became more serious about getting his license. We had him driving to all of his activities and for impromptu Target runs. Getting him on the road more often and during all times of the day certainly helped his confidence and comfort. And it made me feel more assured in his ability to be a safe driver to watch him maneuver through traffic, the Interstate interchange (which we all know is awful) and be a conscientious driver.

In North Dakota, teen drivers are no longer required to take a driver’s test at the DMV. With proof of having completed the required hours of driver’s ed and behind the wheel training, parents can send in a copy of these documents and have a license mailed to them. 

Another option is to pay the extra fee with your behind the wheel teacher, and have them administer a driver’s test; your driver will receive a certificate that can be taken to the DMV which will allow them to have a license issued on site without a DMV test.

Our teen driver still isn’t bouncing off the walls begging to run errands for us, but he’s gained a sense of independence behind the wheel. He will drive himself to work or activities, and even to take his sister out for ice cream!

We did a few things that made driving with teens go smoothly.

4 Tips for Driving with Teens

1. Let them move at their own pace.

Not everyone wants to go straight from permit to driving. My son preferred more chill neighborhood driving before we took any main roads and busy intersections.

2. Keep critiques to a minimum and avoid micromanaging.

Each time we hit the road, I would tell him to focus on one thing to be better at, like less jerky steering while turning, or staying in the middle of the lane. Micromanaging is harder and I really had to just let go of a lot of the things I wanted to say and let him focus on driving.

3. Only have them drive one way.

To keep driving from being overwhelming and intimidating, we would give our son the option to drive either to or from a destination. This also helped him work on parking and backing out of various places.

4. Don’t freak out.

I wear my thoughts on my face and very often let loose my stream of consciousness when I am internally freaking out. This doesn’t serve anyone and while it was difficult, I found it easier to control myself than giving my kid a complex about driving.

I know this also depends on what personality your kid has. Without a doubt we will have different expectations for our daughter who at 13 and is already itching to drive, but we will still adhere to the same strategies we used with our son.

What are some of your tips for driving with teens? Let us know in the comments below!

And looking for more wisdom on dealing with teenagers? See our post on Staying Connected as a Family When You Have Teens.
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Gina Dahl is a semi-experienced parent of 15 years with her husband Andy. On any given day you can find Gina outside running with her giant lapdog, leading early morning yoga, or teaching piano. As a direct result of having teens, Gina is widely known for being super embarrassing and wildly uncool while also talking way too much. She is greatly appreciated by her family, mostly for her tasty cooking skills. At the end of every day, she feels fortunate for the good things and bad things and especially the funny things that happen when you're a parent.


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