SmackDown: Should Parents Teach Teens How to Drive?
Filed under: Opinions
Parents and Teens Will Drive Each Other Crazy
by Jessica Samakow
If your kids wanted to go skydiving, would you teach them how to jump yourself, or would you leave it up to a certified instructor?
Assuming you've agreed to let them jump in the first place, you would probably leave the instruction up to someone certified and qualified. So, when it comes to driving, why is the precedent any different?
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of teen deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For any other life-threatening activity, parents would probably opt out of being their teen's teacher. But, when it comes to the daily activity that, statistically, presents the most danger, parents tend to be the core instructor.
Just because a person knows how to drive, doesn't mean she knows how to teach how to drive. And when emotions and fear play into the mix, the results can be disastrous or even fatal.
Instead, certified driving instructors should be responsible for teaching teens how to drive. I still refer to the year I learned how to drive as "the worst year of my life," thanks to my parents who made the experience nothing short of traumatic for me.
Five years ago, I felt like the coolest kid in town the first time I sat behind the wheel, buckled my seat belt and prepared to show the road who was boss. What I neglected to consider (but would soon be reminded of), was that my anxiety-ridden mother was sitting in the passenger seat and her terror would have an effect on me.
We began in a completely empty parking lot, but from her dramatic reactions, one would assume we were on a NASCAR track and that I was a serial killer determined to end her life. I lowered my foot onto the gas pedal, she gasped for air and grabbed onto the ceiling as if it would save her in a time of emergency. My mom failed to recognize that although she was scared, I was the one who had never operated a vehicle before. How was I supposed to remain calm if my "teacher" was in panic mode?
After weeks of practicing in a parking lot and figuring out a way to filter her freak-outs, my mom finally decided I was ready for the tough stuff: neighborhood streets. I knew I had gotten the hang of this whole driving thing, and I felt like it was time to accelerate past 15 mph.
As I gently pressed on the gas and the speedometer crept up toward a whopping 20, my nearly mom ruptured my eardrum.
"JESSSSICAAAAAAAAAAAA," she shrieked.
I slammed on the breaks assuming I had run over a squirrel, or a small child or something. I hadn't. My mom pointed a shaking finger to the kid riding his bike on the sidewalk.
"Well, yeah, Mom, he's on the sidewalk," I said. "I'm on the road. Chill."
But of course, she wouldn't.
I suddenly realized that when I was finally released onto an actual road with real, live cars on it, we were going to have some issues. Again, I was right. My mom's perpetual gasps and motions to slam on her imaginary brakes did not make for a fun "learning" environment.
"YOU'RE TOO CLOSE TO THE CURB," she would scream as she grabbed the wheel to violently steer it the other way.
Clearly an effective teaching method.
Eventually, she came to the conclusion that this wasn't going to work, and she let my step-dad take over as teacher. The polar opposite of my mother, my step-dad is the guy who once got sucked into the deep part of the Bahamian ocean because he decided the "Do not swim past this point" signs did not apply to him.
A little too carefree, some would say.
He decided to use driving time as nap time. I'd be focused on the road waiting for instruction and hear a snore beside me.
I'd shout for him to wake up, he'd shrug his shoulders and say, "OK, just merge onto the highway."
Oh yeah? Just like that?
"Relax," he'd say, "You're too much like your mother."
His guess-and-check method of driving did not feel quite right to me.
Eventually, when I took lessons with a professional instructor, who calmly advised me to "brake sooner" or "make a left turn," I thought to myself, "Wow, where was this guy when I first took to the streets?"
The big day finally came and I was determined to get my license on the first try. Thankfully, I did.
But this automotive scar is so deep that my driver's license has now taken backseat in my wallet to my Metrocard. I moved to New York City and now take the subway every day.
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.