My youngest child and I celebrated our birthdays on Friday. I won’t tell you our ages, but I will tell you that we’re now a combined 64 years old.
And that I’m not yet eligible for membership in AARP. And that my son now has his learner’s permit.
This means I’m teaching my fourth child how to drive, which means that if your oldest child has not yet reached this milestone, then I have some wisdom for you.
1-Don’t assume your children can drive before you teach them to.
I speak from experience. One of my three sons had just gotten his learner’s permit and we were late for a function across town. He asked me if he could drive.
“Sure,” I said, and tossed him the keys. Man, I was a cool dad!
“Thanks!” he said. He had a big grin and I could tell he was thinking, “Man, I have a cool dad!” So he started driving on a public road for the first time ever, which leads us to my next tip.
2-Don’t ask your children to break the law.
Like I said, we were in a hurry. “You need to go faster than this,” I said.
“But I’m already going the speed limit,” he said.
“That’s good,” I said. “You want to go the speed limit, but you don’t have to go exactly the speed limit.”
“What does that mean?” he said. He was approaching a yellow light.
“Go!” I yelled.
He stopped. The light turned red.
Did I mention we were in a hurry?
That’s when I did something I regret to this day. While we were sitting at the light with cars behind us, I told my son to switch places and let me drive.
Then I got out and walked around the front of the truck and opened the driver’s door and he got out and stomped over to the passenger’s side.
This tip could have been entitled, “Don’t do something that your children will remember years later when they’re in therapy.”
I drove us to our destination. My son was mad and had every right to be. And his brothers were in the backseat laughing hysterically. Which leads us to…
4-Don’t bring siblings along on a driving lesson.
They will be mercilessly critical. That’s their job as siblings. But your young driver’s job is to keep his cool and keep the car in the right lane, and that’s hard to do when he’s yelling at the peanut gallery in the backseat.
End of that story. But here are some more tips:
Start in a church parking lot.
To review, don’t do what I did and put your child out on a busy highway with no training. Go to church, but not on Sunday morning or any other time that other cars are in the parking lot.
The denomination doesn’t matter. I taught my daughter how to change lanes in an Assembly of God nursery pickup line — big churches have a network of roads you can practice on — and my middle son how to parallel park in a Unitarian Universalist lot.
Then you can move up to neighborhoods.
Keep it simple.
I tell my children to focus on two things: Stay in your lane, and don’t confuse the gas pedal and the brake. That’s a good place to start. You can watch the speedometer and tell them to slow down or speed up.
Remember that girls and boys are different.
My first driver was a girl. She thought she was a bad driver and so she listened intently to my instructions and drove with abundant caution. Today she has a perfect driving record.
My next driver was a boy. He thought he was Dale Earnhardt Jr. I’ll stop there.
So if you’re training a new driver, good luck.
And whoever you are, be careful on the road. There are teen drivers out there.