One of the first things I usually ask students is whether or not they are nervous. Most of the time they are. From behind the wheel, they can better understand the magnitude of what it means to drive a car, and they are worried that maybe they can’t handle it. Rather than tell them not to be nervous, I ask what they are nervous about. The common answers are “getting into a car crash” or “making a mistake.” I like these answers because they show me that this new teen driver has a lot of humility and is primed for learning.
Along with that humility, though, is a fear that the goal is insurmountable. This young driver can barely find the ignition switch, so becoming a licensed driver seems impossible. This is where I reassure students. First, we’re not going to learn everything at once. Second, they are going to make mistakes. Finally, we are going to celebrate every success along the way!
Celebrate Each New Safe Driving Skill
New teen drivers have a lot to learn, and most of them actually integrate learning the driving concepts and putting it all into practice remarkably well. There’s always a learning curve, but that’s why we start in the parking lot. Then we move to quiet streets and work our way up to the highway. We learn how to change lanes before we try to merge, and we never rush parallel parking.
Because there is so much to absorb, and so many skills lead right into the next, it’s easy to forget to acknowledge the teen driver’s progress. As a driving coach, I make a point to celebrate the small wins with my students. Most of the time, they don’t even realize how well they’re doing, because they are so focused on the lesson itself. Just hearing the words, “great job” reminds them that they are hitting their goals. It motivates them to hit the next one.
Mistakes are Vital to the Learning Process
As much as celebrating successes can build up a new driver, making a mistake can completely deflate them. More importantly, the way a driving coach handles a mistake will have a huge impact on how the driver recovers and grows from the experience. As I already mentioned, I reassure student drivers that mistakes are definitely going to happen. That’s why I have a brake on my side of the car! I actually want teen drivers to make mistakes with me in the car so that I can coach them through that. If they could do everything perfectly on their own, they wouldn’t need a coach at all.
The key is to never allow a mistake to wipe out a teen driver’s sense of accomplishment. We are continually celebrating the wins so that when a mistake happens, there is already an established balance in the instruction. If a student is really upset after making a driving mistake, one of the best recovery tools I have is to point back to all of the things we have already celebrated. It puts the mistake into perspective as one difficult moment in a series of successful events. It’s always harder for the teen to rebound in confidence and optimism if they don’t have that bank of positive reinforcement to draw from.
That kind of balance doesn’t only apply to the teen driving experience. All of us would do well to remember that the teachable moments in life are much easier to digest when we can balance them with a solid memory of the things we’ve done well.
If you and your teen driver are struggling to find a good rhythm of teaching and celebrating, it’s not too late to take a new approach. The Parent’s Survival Guide for New Teen Drivers can help you get into the best frame of mind for coaching your teen as a driver. Lessons with a Safe Driving Coach are another excellent way to support your teen in becoming a skilled and safe driver for life.