Parents In Sync: A Critical Part of Teen Driver Safety
One of my recurring efforts in promoting safer teen driving is to make parents aware of aspects of teen driving that are less than obvious – that is, just below the surface of our consciousness, and therefore not realized or appreciated until someone raises the issue. An example is making sure that parents (meaning each adult who is responsible for supervising a particular teen driver) have at least similar and complimentary, if not identical, approaches to teen driver supervision.
What are the key elements of supervising teen drivers on which parents need to coordinate? First and foremost is educating themselves about the dangers of teen driving. A mother who has attended a class on teen driver safety will be less effective with her teen if the father has not attended or worse, doesn’t care to know the facts, and vice versa. Obviously some teens are adept at playing one parent off against the other, and an obvious imbalance in parents’ knowledge of teen driver laws and risks will create an opening for a teen to disregard the more informed parent by seeking out the less informed one when he or she wants to drive.
A second role involves my mantra that each parent needs to act “like an air traffic controller,” by having a teen (especially a brand-new driver) go through a process before each drive not unlike a pilot filing and getting approval of a flight plan. If one parent insists on this procedure while the other believes and makes it clear that this is overkill, the teen driver will most likely wait out the situation and end up being allowed to drive without this important level of supervision.
A third place for supervising adults to be on the same page is in negotiating, signing, and following a teen driving agreement. If one parent does all of the negotiating and the other is unaware of the agreement’s provisions and consequences for violations, the enforcement will undoubtedly be less effective.
This is, of course, a complicated and potentially messy topic, because it overlaps with fundamentals of a family household’s discipline and oversight; for example, it is not unheard of for one parent to be in charge of school and academics and another to handle the driving lessons. I am not qualified, and this article is not the place, to address the bigger picture of how and when discipline is more or less effective based on interactions between parents. All I can offer–again, if only to make parents aware of it so they can assess it–is that all adults supervising a teen driver need to have a relatively comparable understanding of the dangers, the daily plans for oversight, state laws, and household rules for driving, because if there is an imbalance or a disconnect, important supervision that is essential to preempting the riskiest situations will suffer.
*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (Responsibility.org) or any Responsibility.org member.*