“The feeling of watching your teen drive away without you is probably the same as the separation anxiety babies feel when their mothers leave.” That’s how our editor Amity Hook-Sopko explains being the mom of a newly licensed teen.
It’s not just the fact that your child is on their way to becoming an adult, but the general anxiety that can be involved when driving with a teenager behind the wheel. This plus the emotions on all sides add up to the importance of encouraging him or her to become a mindful driver.
When the time comes for your teen to get behind the wheel, it can be overwhelming for you and them. There’s the fear of what could happen to them on the road… and on top of that, some major expenses — driver’s education courses, auto insurance, and maybe even a car of their own.
The statistics are enough to send even the most prepared parent into a minor panic. Fifty percent of teens get in a car accident before they graduate high school, and teens between 16 and 19-years old have the highest accident rates in the country.
However, as a strongly attached parent (yes, even during the teen years), you know how to communicate with your child. You also know how best to support him during this exciting, yet challenging time. In case you need some pointers, here are five ways to cope with a new teen driver:
You are your child’s first teacher
Many states now require new drivers to obtain a learner’s permit before enrolling in a driver’s education class. This means that her first exposure behind the wheel with be with you. Brush up on your technical skills and set a good example when driving with your child in the car. Distracted driving affects parents just as much as teens.
How to encourage your teen to be a mindful driver
Being a mindful driver is all about acquiring an awareness of yourself and your surroundings, a skill all drivers should have. By teaching your teenager safety skills and mindful driving, they can be less distracted in the driver’s seat and give you peace of mind no matter where you are.
Teach her how to be in the moment
You should be present when it comes to most, if not all, situations. This is especially true when it comes to driving. Distracted driving is one of the main causes of vehicular crashes, whether it be due to a phone, other passengers in the car, a song on the radio, or something that just caught your eye when driving by — and teens can be some of the most distracted individuals of all.
We can remember how complicated our teenage years were. It’s a time of a lot of changes as you figure out who you are as a person. Couple that with school and the drama that accompanies it and you have a recipe for one distracted kid. It’s hard for adults to keep their heads out of the past or stuck in the future — it can be even harder for teenagers.
To help her remain in the moment while driving, encourage her to get in the car with the intent of staying mindful. Ask her to take some deep breaths and become aware of where she is before even starting the engine. Let her feel where her hands, feet, and body are inside their car.
When she’s driving, have her really focus on what she’s actually seeing and hearing. If she slips into unconscious thought at any point throughout the drive, advise her to take a breath and reorient herself in the present moment. By committing to be aware of her surroundings, your teen can free up mental energy and concentration so her mind is active on the task at hand and she’s able to navigate any unexpected occurrences on the road.
There are many things already vying for your teen’s attention. A favorite song, a long awaited podcast episode, and a dinging phone are all fighting for their attention. With so many things to focus on, the road ahead of him can get pushed to the back burner when a mindful driver keeps them front and center.
According to the DMV, there are three types of driving distractions: manual, visual, and cognitive. Manual distractions require one or both of your hands to come off the steering wheel. Visual distractions are when your eyes are no longer on the road. Lastly, cognitive distractions involve anytime when your focus is not on driving.
All three of these distractions impede concentration, meaning your teenager won’t be anywhere near the present moment when he’s driving. To limit the distractions in your teenager’s car and keep his attention on where it should be, here are some tips to help him stay focused:
- Turn off the cellphone. Every beep and ring is a chance your teen will pick it up and answer it. Texting or talking on the phone involves more than one of the three driving distractions, so it’s best to remove the temptation altogether and have him put his phone on silent.
- If your teenager is driving to a new destination, encourage him to map it out on the GPS first before setting off. Mapping it out when you’re already on the road can be a major distraction, and the stress and anxiety associated with getting lost won’t help him be a more mindful driver either. If a phone is used as a GPS, have your teen turn off notifications to keep distractions at bay.
- Keep eating and drinking in the car to a minimum. Your teenager’s steering skills won’t improve if he’s trying to eat a hamburger and drive at the same time — not to mention if anything spills. Having a no food policy will also keep your teen’s car cleaner longer while reducing distractions.
- Use passengers to your advantage. Although having additional passengers in the car can be a distraction in and of itself, they can help your teen focus on the road by having them be in charge of tasks that would divert the driver’s attention, such as changing the music station or controlling the heating and air conditioning.
- Before taking off, have your teen adjust his seats and mirrors. It’s better to have everything ready and prepared before the drive than realize your mirrors aren’t adjusted properly when you’re zooming down the highway.
Create a contract between you and your new teen driver
A contract is the easiest way to keep you and your teen on the same page about what you feel comfortable with when she starts to drive. It also encourages discussion on what the consequences might be if the contract is broken.
First talk about curfews and passengers. Most accidents involving teens occur between the hours of 9 p.m. to midnight, so it might be wise to have them hand over the keys during that window. The same goes for teen passengers which can be a distraction in the car. Research finds that drivers take more chances and drive faster when the passenger is a male.
Once curfews and passengers are agreed upon you can also talk about cellphones, food in the car, and restricted driving areas. If you need some reassurance your teen is adhering to your contract, there are quite a few monitoring devices out there.
Remember you’re not the only one flooded with emotions
This stage, as your child steps a little bit closer to adulthood, comes with plenty of emotions. They range everywhere from panic and worry to tears of nostalgia for years past. When teaching your teen to drive or negotiating the contract, emotions can run high. Take a deep breath and remember this is a scary time for your child as well. She may be scared to drive or worried about making a mistake behind the wheel.
Having a heart to heart with your teen before you set them on their course with make both of you feel better and ease some of those heightened emotions.