The Maasai warriors of Kenya celebrate the transition into adulthood by moving their youth into a special tribe and having them kill a lion. In the jungles of the Brazilian Amazon, the Satere-Mawe tribe forces their youth to wear a glove of angry bullet ants, which carries one of the most painful stings of the animal kingdom. Meanwhile, in North America, it’s a jungle. Driving test are the right of passage (although some parents may prefer excruciating ant bites).
Getting a driver’s license is a symbol of adulthood and freedom. Like slaying a lion, learning to drive requires skill and technique, and there’s an inherent danger. It is up to the parents—and step-parents—to educate their young road warriors well.
Old School Is the Best School
When your little one wanted to play baseball, you did not hand out a glove, drop the kid on first base and walk away, knowing that your child was a baseball legend in the making. Yet this is what we do with young drivers. They take a class, they pass a test and suddenly, they are Mario Andretti.
There are all kinds of statistics showing that teens have a disproportionate amount of accidents. This is not because they are broken or defective; they are bad drivers because they are new drivers. Make sure their driver’s education is the traditional kind, and let them have a lot of practice before they hit the road. A study published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention found that young people who have traditional driver’s education (over several months) as opposed to intensive classes (say, over a weekend) have 46 percent fewer driving incidents.
Get It Into Their Brains
If you have not changed since high school, then please share your secrets. There is still a lot of physical development that will happen between the teen years and mid-adulthood, especially in the area of the brain. Until the brain fully develops, decision-making skills can be impaired. One way to create strong neuro-pathways is to discuss possible driving situations. On the website driving-tests.org, you can find sample permit tests that will help your teen learn road signs and rules. For example, the one for California contains 40 multiple-choice questions that can be used as prompts to start conversations about road safety and open up lines of communication.
Don’t text and drive. Wear a seat belt. Don’t drink and drive. We know the rules and they know them also, but it does not hurt to repeat them often. Make it fun. Remind your teen not to text, drink or park in the pool. Going for the ridiculous shows that you trust your child but still need to fulfill your parenting responsibilities.
Plan for the Bad, Not the Worst
Insuring your teen driver is not simply a legal requirement; it offers piece of mind for both parent and child. You are not insuring against the unthinkable, but you are getting insurance to cover the dumb mistake. By definition, accidents cannot be predicted. Make sure that your young driver understands the insurance policy and what to do if there is an accident.