Some road rules for teaching your kids how to drive

July 25, 2005|By KEVIN COWHERD

So your teenager just got his or her learner's permit and is going out driving with you for the first time.

You're wondering how to handle it. Don't worry, it's not that hard. I've taught two kids how to drive. I can walk you through it.

As soon as the kid gets in and buckles the seat belt, say: "You're going too fast."

I like to get that one out of the way early. It sets the tone. You really can't say it enough. Fifty or 60 times is about right.

OK, now the kid puts it in reverse and starts to back out of the driveway.

Right away, say this: "Did you look in your rearview mirror?"

The kid will always say yes.

Your reply should be: "I don't know ... I didn't SEE you look in the rearview mirror."

The kid will roll his or her eyes.

Don't let this bother you. You'll see this a lot over the next half-hour, or however long you're out there.

(Sometimes, you're only out driving for a few minutes before you blow up or the kid starts crying, and you turn back.)

OK, so now the kid backs out of the driveway, puts it in drive, and the two of you are off.

What I like to do here is hit the kid with a steady stream of instructions, such as:

"Two hands on the steering wheel."

"You're too close to that car. Back off and give him some space."

"Why isn't your turn signal on?"

"The sign says yield, not stop."

This keeps the kid on his or her toes.

Look, you don't want the kid to get lackadaisical.

By overloading his or her brain circuitry with commands, you create the same kind of stress level as a Humvee driver on patrol in Baghdad experiences.

Is your kid white-knuckling the steering wheel now?

Good.

This helps the kid focus. It helps the kid see we're not fooling around out there.

Speaking of focusing, at some point, your kid may ask to turn on the car radio or play a CD.

Look at the kid in horror. Immediately say no. Say something about how the kid really has to concentrate. If you have some accident statistics, this is a good time to break them out.

OK, here's a fun thing to do when your kid comes to a stop sign or red light.

As the car is slowing, gasp and grab the dashboard, as if you're going to crash.

Stomp the floor with your right foot, as if stomping an imaginary brake pedal.

This will scare the hell out of your kid.

"WHAT?" the kid will say.

Don't say anything in reply.

Just shake your head slowly from side to side.

Then clutch your chest, like the kid's giving you a heart attack.

OK, at this point, it will have been two or three minutes since you last said: "You're going too fast."

So lay that one on the kid again.

For variety, you might want to use "Slow down" or "Speed limit's 35, isn't it?"

Remember: It's not so much WHAT you say. It's that you say it in a peeved, exasperated tone.

But say it a lot. That way it'll be sure to sink in.

OK, I probably should have mentioned this before. If there's both a mom and dad involved here, always have the more nervous spouse take the kid out driving.

This is no job for a laid-back parent.

We're not going surfing here. We're not getting our little mats out and doing yoga. We're teaching a youngster how to operate a ton or two of rolling steel, often powered by a hemi.

This is serious business.

Sometimes that calls for a little hysteria.

(OK, quick check: Has it been more than a minute since you last said: "You're going too fast?" Then say it again. Don't be shy about this.)

Depending on how well your kid is holding up to the incredible mental strain, he or she may ask to practice a K-turn, or even parallel parking.

Even here, don't be afraid to say: "You're going too fast."

After that, say: "OK, that's enough for today. Let's head back."

Once you're back in the driveway, tell the kid he or she did fine.

Then add: "But you gotta learn to relax. You're too uptight out there."

Then go inside and get yourself a drink.

God knows you deserve it.

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