It’s not like we didn’t know our kids would drive eventually. We have talked about it since they were little, having fun conversations like “Hey, in the year 2020, our oldest will start driving!”. “Yea, in her self-driving hydroelectric space car!”. Ok, so driving always seemed a long way into the future when we were back in the thick of sleep training and teething. But here we are, with one learning to drive, and one too close.
In Iowa, kids can get their drivers’ permit at age 14 and in Illinois at age 15. When our kids were barely tweens, and we had only a little more than a decade of parenting experience, friends were starting to get their permits. What? We barely had time to digest this ourselves, let alone come up with rules and guidelines to help our kids navigate this new territory.
As with everything in parenting, there is a lot to think about when it comes to teens and driving. Here are a few topics to ponder before your kid’s friend shows up in your driveway with a fresh permit, ready to whisk your firstborn off onto the highway!
Even if your kid is not driving yet, someone will be. As parents of teens, we go from knowing where our kids are all the time, to all of a sudden “getting a ride with a friend” becomes a thing. That was a sudden, and harsh, transition for me. As much as we complain about being the family Uber, there’s something awesome about time spent in the car with your kids. We go from the people who they rely on to get everywhere and chatting about their day as we go, to the people who annoy them when we ask where they are going.
My advice is to set the rules early and make sure everyone is on the same page. Are they allowed to ride with a friend with a new permit? Are they allowed to ride with a friend with a new license? An older friend who has driven for a year? A friend of the opposite gender, alone? Is there a limit to how many friends can be in the car? Is there a limit to how far they can go? How late they can go? Are there exceptions? Do these rules change over time? At a time when making friends can be tough, and teens just want to fit in, will they be able to stand up and say “I can’t go if these rules are broken.”? These have been tough conversations in our house, and I wish we had started these discussions sooner.
Is your teen ready to drive? Just because the minimum age is set by the state, doesn’t mean they have to drive at that age. Some kids are nervous about driving, or not yet mature enough. How does your teen feel about getting behind the wheel? Have they shown responsibility in other ways? Do they have any health conditions that might limit their ability or willingness to drive? Have they earned the privilege of driving? These are great discussions to have before that drivers ed permission slip comes home and you have one night to sign and return it. Not that this happened to us.
What types of instruction are available? I wasn’t ready for the dizzying array of choices when it came to drivers education. Many schools still offer it as part of the curriculum, some don’t. Some districts require students to take it through a private instructor. Some public schools offer it in summer school, or as an elective during the school year. Some public schools offer extra spots to those in private high schools. Private drivers ed courses can cost hundreds so research can save you money if you find that you don’t have to pay for private instruction.
Student drivers in Illinois need 50 hours of additional instruction with a parent or guardian, and Iowa requires 20. In the end our oldest opted to take drivers ed during the school year as an elective, as she wasn’t interested in spending her summer in intensive drivers ed class just to get her license a few months earlier. She will turn 16 in January and won’t get her license until at least April when she has had her permit for 9 months (in Iowa, it’s 12 months), but that is ok with her. She is not as anxious as some of her friends to drive, at least not yet. And that is fine with us.
How will I know where they are? I don’t know how my parents did it. When I started driving around with friends, we didn’t always do a great job communicating with our parents. Now there are some terrific apps that will do everything from tracking your driver’s location to telling you how fast they were going and how quickly they were braking. One we find to be the most helpful is Life360. Once added to each phone and a “family group” set up, Life360 can give you real time location, speed when travelling and even battery life left on the phone. Our kids know that having this app is a requirement to having some freedom and a phone that we pay for. It gives me a lot of peace of mind when practice runs late and I wonder why she isn’t home yet. We started the kids with it as soon as they had phones, so it wasn’t an afterthought or an argument once they were out in the driving world. Another one we have used is Apple’s “Find My”, which is also handy when they can’t remember where they last saw that phone. Some insurance companies will even offer discounts for installing their own tracking device, if teens prove to be safe drivers based on the data. And with teen drivers, you should get all the insurance discounts you can (yowza!).
Drinking and driving! It is never too early to start talking about drinking and driving. I was grateful to hear from my daughter how much time was spent on this topic in Drivers Ed class, which was a good launching point for discussions at home. We have brought up a no questions asked policy – just call if you are in a situation where you need a ride, and we won’t ask about the choices made to get in that situation, at least not at the time. Some families have the “X plan” to give their kids a way out of an uncomfortable situation. Whatever it is, I want my kids to know that getting behind the wheel of a car, or in a car with a compromised driver, is never ok. Unfortunately, knowing their uncle was permanently disabled after being hit by an intoxicated driver, this lesson is all too real to them.
There’s lots of other fun stuff to talk about when it comes to teens and driving, like which lucky parent gets to be the primary family driving instructor. Whose car will they drive? My husband has the patience of a high school art teacher, so we voted for him to be driving instructor too. Besides, the teen thinks I “yell” and “tell her what to do” too often from the passenger seat. We are all probably better off this way.
Having a teen driver can be very stressful. Here’s one QC mom’s take on Ways to Keep Your Cool With a Teen Driver. Since we are still in the permit phase of driving with our oldest, what else would you seasoned parents add who have drivers out there on their own? Are we really ready for this next milestone?