You knew this day was coming. Even so, if you’re like many fathers, you might feel emotionally overwhelmed on the day your teenager finally climbs behind the wheel without sitting on your lap.
Learning to drive is a rite of passage that teens and parents rightfully treat with enormous gravity. However, if your child is beginning to drive and you’re feeling a higher-than-average amount of anxiety about it, know you’re in good company.
You don’t have to freak out — there are constructive ways to dispel the feeling without impounding the family pickup and hiding the keys from your freshly-minted driver.
1. Build Their Behind-the-Wheel Confidence Naturally
We’ve all seen a movie where the dad throws his son in the lake to teach him how to swim. “The hard way is the only way to learn!” he yells over the splashing. But the rest of us know that the proverbial trial by fire — or water — is a terrible way to learn how to swim, drive and do just about anything else.
Teaching your son or daughter to drive with earned confidence and to be relentlessly aware of their surroundings should begin in one of America’s many abandoned shopping mall parking lots. From there, help your young driver graduate to active parking lots, variable types of roads and road surfaces — like pavement, gravel, hills and switchbacks — and eventually variable speed limits, including highways.
Driving in poor weather and visibility conditions is one training area many dads forget about. Make every effort to take your teen out onto the local roads while it’s raining, windy, snowy, foggy and every other weather pattern imaginable. This is your chance to help them explore diverse and potentially dangerous conditions under otherwise controlled and relatively safe circumstances.
2. Remember You’re Setting an Example
Freaking out and expecting the worst doesn’t help anybody. Even worse, it can erode the self-confidence and clear-headedness your young driver needs at this point in their driving education. While cockiness behind the wheel is one problem, you also don’t want to distract them by making them second-guess their every move.
Your energy as a father affects your son or daughter throughout their lives. The example you want to set is one which mixes defensiveness with decisiveness and tops it off with a level head and strong powers of observation.
Don’t project your anxiety onto a young driver. Instead, if something that’s happening is making one or both of you anxious, respectfully and patiently help them identify and address the cause of the worry.
3. Find a Recommended Drivers’ Education Program
Parents take a certain amount of pride in teaching their sons and daughters to drive. It’s an important bonding experience at a time that signals — in one way at least — the end of childhood.
However confident you might be in your skills as a teacher, though, no one can substitute a professional, vetted driving instructor. Then again, maybe you’re not too confident in your own driving abilities, which has fueled some of your anxiety in the first place.
To address either issue, look online at lists of well-reviewed drivers’ education programs in your state that provide thorough instruction for young drivers. Enrolling your son or daughter can help banish a lot of that anxiety you’ve been trying to bottle up.
4. Subscribe to AAA or Another Roadside Service
We know you’ll be waiting up all night by the phone anyway when your child takes the wheel on their own for the first time. But if you want an extra layer of protection for your young driver, something like AAA with roadside assistance is well worth the investment.
You can secure emergency roadside assistance in several other ways, too. Some car dealerships and vehicle manufacturers offer good deals on roadside assistance packages for new or used vehicle purchases. Your credit card company, depending on the card you chose, might also be able to render assistance if you look into the details.
No matter where your coverage comes from, your service provider should have provided you with a number to call if you find yourself stranded on the road, locked out or needing help with your vehicle. Program this number into your teen’s phone to round out their emergency contacts.
5. Make Sure They Know What to Do If Something Happens
A time will come when your son or daughter embarks on their own new adventures without you staring in judgment from the passenger seat. On that day, you want to be absolutely confident that your youngster knows the steps to take if an unforeseen roadside incident does come to pass. Here are the essentials:
- Move off the road:If you can move the car, pull off the street to the safest location you can reach. Turn on your hazard lights regardless of whether you can move your vehicle.
- Identify your surroundings:Determine your location using a smartphone or nearby road signs and landmarks. This will help responders get there quickly.
- Call for help:Stay with the vehicle and call a roadside service if your car is having trouble running correctly — or at all. If an accident has occurred, call the police.
Some of the most popular smartphones have a Medical ID feature that emergency responders can access from the lock screen if they have to make snap decisions about care or medications and need details on blood types or allergic reactions.
It’s a Big Step, but You’re Both Ready
It can be both thrilling and overwhelming to watch as your son or daughter climbs behind the wheel. While they’ve probably received some instruction by this point, you can still do more to make sure you both stay calm and have fun throughout the process.
Above all, lead with a safe, confident, courteous and defensive example. Project positive and optimistic energy. They’ll thank you for being there and for taking them seriously as they learn a vital skill.
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