By Susan Kurlander, Health Educator
I had gone out shopping while my husband took my daughter out for her first driving experience. I thought I would come home to find my husband feeling successful and my daughter feeling elated as this eagerly awaited new stage in her development was getting under way. Instead, I came home to find my husband rocking frantically in our kitchen rocking chair and my daughter sobbing hysterically in her room. I knew right away that the experience had not been a good one for either of them. Something would have to change to keep us all on a more even emotional keel.
Many, if not most parents go through trying times when their child comes of age and gets behind the wheel. Questions begin to invade our thoughts 24/7.
- How much freedom to drive should my child have?
- What consequences should I put in place?
- Is my child ready to accept the responsibilities of driving?
Since we are all well aware of the dangers and risks of driving, especially for new drivers, these safety questions are fundamental. Some of the more complex questions, however, involve our needing to let go when our children take this next big step.
- Do I see this next stage as my losing control?
- Does my child trust me enough to listen to what I’m saying?
- Do I trust my child enough to allow and even encourage him/her to become more independent?
- How can I stay calm when I am anything but calm?
We tend to accept teen driving as a rite of passage, and we feel that it will take a leap of faith to get us through this potentially stressful time. However, if we choose to look at teen driving as a process that can be navigated, there are ways to make this process smoother and safely managed. Here are some suggestions:
- Begin talking with your teen about your expectations before the actual driving begins.
- Directly address any hesitation either you or your teen may have related to driving.
- Discuss the financial costs of maintaining a car as well as the increased insurance costs, and together decide if your child should accept any of those costs. Teens tend to be more responsible if they have financial accountability.
- Make sure your child is aware of some of the natural consequences of driving infractions such as speeding, going through a red light, etc.
- Discuss together some of the logical consequences that will be put in place if rules are not followed. For example, what does your teen think should happen if a curfew is not met? Often, teens will impose a harsher consequence than the parents.
- Decide whether or not passengers will be allowed to ride in the car and, if so, will that be immediately or after the new driver has had some experience driving alone. Some states already have that stipulation in place.
The more the parent and teen can talk about these things together ahead of time, the less stressful and safer the process will be.
Having a new teen driver in the family stirs up a lot of emotion. Keeping calm may seem to be impossible as your teen begins to navigate the process of gaining experience behind the wheel. Whether you are in the car or not, it’s easy to become rattled when you think of all the things that could happen. Just keep in mind: if you follow some of the suggestions offered here, you won’t feel so helpless. You may even get to the point where you welcome your teen’s offer to drive Grandma home or go to pick up some groceries. But during the learning process, there’s always that rocking chair in the kitchen.
By Susan Kurlander, Health Educator, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
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