Your teen just got a driver’s license and wants to celebrate by jumping in the car to go meet friends. You’re proud of the accomplishment, yet worried about them driving solo. You have good reason to be anxious: Motor vehicle crashes caused by teen drivers are the number one cause of death among teens with 16-year-olds accounting for the highest percentage.
How can you encourage responsible driving—and still be a cool parent?
1. Trust. Remember riding shotgun as your teen learned to drive, stifling your gasps and gripping the handle so hard your knuckles turned white? Your teen will need this kind of self-control—and self-confidence—to drive solo. While you should emphasize that driving is a big deal with consequences, also reinforce that you trust his or her judgment. If you’ve demonstrated safe driving behaviors, your teen is more likely to follow your lead.
2. Observe and report. Phone calls are so last decade for teens. Texting is the thing, a quick way to be in touch, but it can be a lethal distraction on the roads. Indeed, texting while driving increases the risk of crashing by more than 20 times.
Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the way teens drive when they first get their license influences how they’ll drive as adults. Every time your teen takes the wheel, give a reminder to buckle up, stay away from the phone, call after arriving at the destination, and be home before curfew.
You also may want to go James Bond and invest in the latest technology to monitor your teen’s driving such as an in-car tracking device or a smart phone app that allows him or her to send simple messages.
3. Ride along. Sure, teens would rather drive around with their friends, but what’s wrong with driving your mom to the mall? Invite yourself for a ride—to music lessons, soccer practices, anywhere you’d both find enjoyable. See how they’re doing and, if you notice any bad habits, you can nip them in the bud.
4. Practice makes perfect. Your teen has put in 50 hours behind the wheel to get a license. But becoming an experienced driver takes time. The more teens drive, the better they’ll be able to handle different situations, especially in hazardous conditions, such as stormy weather or difficult terrain.
5. Set limits. Most states have laws that limit the number of passengers in a car driven by a teen driver. But establishing other guidelines are up to you. Will you allow your teen to drive on the highway? In the dark? To a party? Clearly outline and communicate your own set of rules to your teen. Be particularly vigilant about curfew, as times vary from community to community and police departments follow different protocols.
6. Talk. Your teen’s newfound independence does not mean you should stop communicating. Quite the opposite: Find ways to engage and encourage an open conversation about driving concerns he or she might have. Also, talking to your friends, and the parents of your teen’s friends, can help you share and articulate your concerns and those of other parents.
7. Adjust. No two young adults are alike. Yes, they sometimes have a pack mentality, but more often than not, they’ll behave in a way consistent with their personality and value system. Just look at who is behind the wheel and adjust your involvement accordingly.
Being supportive of your newly-licensed teen is a juggling act, but watching your teen come home safe and sound is the reward that makes it all worthwhile.