Here is some practical advice you can apply when you help your teen learn to drive

When your child enters his or her teen years, one phrase can often provoke a sense of dread for any parent &emdash; “learner’s permit.” Not only will you soon be allowing your son or daughter to drive the busy roads of Northern Virginia, but you will also become part of the team that will help them gain the knowledge and experience necessary to be entrusted with a driver’s license.

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, parents play an important role in developing their teen’s driving performance behind the wheel. Rather than employing a haphazard approach, the Virginia Department of Education has developed a system that involves 45 hours of guided driving instruction, 15 hours of which must take place after sunset.

The guide for this very special program gives both parents and teens some practical information on driving and a curriculum to follow for 40 sessions behind the wheel. This guide can be found at…/parent_teen_driving_guide.pdf.

This time of instruction doesn’t have to become a drama-filled or conflict-driven event. It can be enjoyable and pleasant for parent and teen alike, especially if you follow certain practical tips in carrying out this parental mission.

Here are eight practical tips to follow:

  1. Leave other family issues behind. Don’t use this time in the car as an opportunity to discuss problems, family dynamics or other issues that are not related to driving.
  2. Make sure your teen has his or her learner’s permit. In addition, be sure current registration and insurance information is in the vehicle.
  3. Encourage your child to develop a standard routine when taking out the car. This should involve positioning the seat, checking mirrors, setting the temperature and buckling the seatbelt. Make sure the radio/CD player and all cell phones are off.
    • Remember, music and phone calls are major distractions and safety issues for a new driver. As an old song says:
      “Keep your mind on your driving,
      “Keep your hands on the wheel,
      “Keep your snoopy eyes on the road ahead…”
  4. Pick the places and times you will drive beforehand, taking note of the skill and experience level of your young driver.
  5. Encourage your teen to think “safety first” by making his or her safety your primary focus during the sessions.
  6. While your teen is driving, do your best to remain calm and reasonable. Talk in even tones and remain upbeat during the time.
  7. Don’t over-correct or micro-manage the driving process. Correction should bring about more confidence not shame. Too many comments all at once can also fluster the new driver.
  8. Praise your teen for the right things they do while they are driving. Positive reinforcement goes a long way.
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