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Coach Your Teen Driver with Teachable Moments

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

Just as you wouldn’t expect your teen driver to know exactly what to do the first time behind the wheel after passing the permit test, you can’t expect your teen to know how to handle every situation on the road after simply talking about it.

There’s only so much that can be learned from reading the driving manuals and talking at the kitchen table. That’s why we hand students a permit before they earn a license. They need to gain most of their driver’s education through the experience of driving. While you might be hoping for a completely uneventful training period for your teen, it’s actually much better for you and your teen to face a few potentially sticky situations together.

Mother teaching teen daughter to drvie and pointing finger at road

Sometimes you will have to coach your teen driver through a real incident, so it’s important to be prepared for that and remain calm the whole time. Other times, you may just encounter a situation that could have escalated or even something totally normal that could be used to paint a hypothetical scenario. Highlight all of these situations as teachable moments to cultivate your teen’s safe driving skills with on the road experience.

How Do Teachable Moments Foster Safe Driving Skills?

When you take advantage of teachable moments while your teen is driving, their brains will connect the memory to driving. This will make it more natural for them to recall if they ever face that reality. As Ben Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” When you coach your teen while he or she is driving, real learning takes place.

Teachable moments are not lectures. Lecturing doesn’t work because we tune it out and stop listening. This is much more of a coaching exercise. Ask questions, listen to the answers, and ask additional questions or change a detail of the scenario and start over. But be careful not to belabor the issue, either. It’s called a teachable moment, not a teachable hour. The law of diminishing returns will eventually kick in, and your teen will remember less and less of the conversation. If you keep your teaching short and sweet, your teen may even come up with a few follow up questions of their own!

Asking questions is an important aspect of this kind of coaching because your teen driver has to think through the answer. This process also helps the dialogue stay in your teen’s memory. When actually faced with a potential problem, having talked through the issue will help your teen’s brain remember safe solutions.

Examples of Teachable Moments

A teachable moment might happen in the aftermath of something that actually goes wrong. Of course, never try to turn a real emergency into a teachable moment, but it may be possible to go over it later to discuss what went wrong and how it could have been avoided. Be careful in these situations not to re-traumatize your teen or increase any guilt they may be feeling. In general, teachable moments will come on the heels of something that almost happened or could have happened:

  • “That car at the stop sign started moving towards the intersection before you passed through. Do you think you could have safely avoided hitting it if it had pulled out?”

  • “What would you do if a deer ran out in front of that car in front of us? Do you have enough room to stop if they slam on the brakes?”

  • “This road has a lot of puddles when it rains hard. How would you handle it if you felt the car hydroplaning?” Follow up question is “Do you know what hydroplaning is?” And follow up again with “What do you do if the car does hydroplane?”

  • “You crossed the yellow line while going through that last curve. Why was that dangerous? What would have been the better way to approach the curve?”

Set the stage for this kind of coaching by telling your teen that you will be asking questions before you even get into the car. If you notice that he or she is getting defensive, frustrated, or belligerent about it, it’s time for a break. Have your teen find a safe place to pull over, and take over driving. There’s no need to escalate the situation into arguments. Simply end the practice session so that your teen is not driving while distracted by emotions. When you take the wheel, lead by example. Make sure your own temper is in check, and save further discussions or possible consequences for a non-driving teachable moment. It’s always better to wait to resume practice so that safe driving skills are always the top priority.

Prepare yourself for teaching your teen to drive and for how to identify great examples of teachable moments with these resources. Don’t be afraid - you can teach your teen how to deal with any number of scenarios by teaching safe driving skills:

learn more about the Parent's Survival guide for new Teen Drivers.


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