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I am a parent of teen drivers

Driving is a tricky hurdle in the adventures of parenthood.  While the idea that your son or daughter can suddenly “help” with driving seems great, this new found freedom sure does kick up the level of worry a few notches.  The statistics on teen driving are overwhelming and frightening - motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15- to 19-year olds.  My husband seemed fine with the idea of them getting behind the wheel of a car weighing, on average, 4,000 pound, but as a self-proclaimed worrier this was a moment (or two) of great concern.

Driving is a huge responsibility and a complex task, so as a parent I wanted to minimize the risks my kids would face on the road.  My husband dutifully taught them how to drive in all sorts of weather and road conditions, and even a little car maintenance, while I was busy reminding everyone of the rules – buckle up, no texting or talking on your phone, pay attention, follow the rules of the road, don’t drink and drive.  What I quickly realized was that we needed to not just teach them, but we needed to model the very behaviors and standards we were going to hold them to if they wanted to drive our cars.  Teaching our kids to drive quickly became a refresher course in driving for us, too.

Since we live in Virginia, my children had to attend ceremonies with a judge to get their license. When I attended the ceremonies for my daughter and son (albeit two years apart) I took notes on what the judge and police officer said to them and the other new drivers.  Each time as we walked back to the car I reiterated their message as well as the messages and expectations we had already established.  Most importantly, driving is a privilege, and each time we give them the keys we are trusting them to be responsible and so are all the other drivers on the road.

In both driver licensing ceremonies the judge reminded parents to exercise their parental responsibilities and to continue to parent and discipline especially with regard to driving.  I took this directive very seriously, and continue to monitor their driving behavior and even have them drive me places just so I can observe them driving.  I have learned from them, including the proper way to set my mirrors now, and hope they are continuing to learn to be better drivers by my example.  So while my kids might get annoyed and call me a “back seat” driver, I expect them to be my “back seat” driver so that we are all safer and better drivers.


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