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Teachable Moments with Your Teen Driver: Make it Easy to Remember

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

Most of the Teachable Moments series is meant to help you, the parent, identify real-world scenarios and coach your teen driver through them, even if hypothetically. But today, I’m going to coach you on how to make sure your teachable moments are easy to remember. The point of teachable moments is making sure your teen driver is prepared to handle real-life situations on the road, which means they have to remember what you’ve taught.

Mother pointing while teen daughter drives car

As I mentioned in my first post about teachable moments, it doesn’t work if you lecture or go on too long about a topic. So how do you make sure your teen remembers what you’ve been talking about when they encounter something on the road? There are a few applicable ways to help move information into long-term memory. But first, let’s start with a few brain basics:

  • The Amygdala is the routing service for information coming into the brain. It makes decisions about whether the brain should use emotions, thought, or more primitive systems to process incoming data.

  • The Hippocampus is the brain’s memory storage facility. It works with the amygdala to respond to information and release the appropriate hormones. It also transfers data to memories.

When information overwhelms the amygdala, it can go rogue and react without evaluating any consequences. When researchers scan the hippocampus in people affected by trauma, they typically find that it has been negatively affected. People have fewer, or more complicated, memories of their traumatic events.

This is all a complicated way of saying that the brain doesn’t function as well when it’s responding to stress. You’ve heard of “Fight, Flight, or Freeze?” Well, this is some of the science behind that.

When you’re coaching your teen driver, it’s crucial to keep in mind that they won’t remember nearly as well under stress.

Yelling and berating are not good ways to install memories. Whatever they do remember, they’ll associate with that stressful moment, and that’s not effective in applying safe driving skills.

So how do you help your teen easily recall teachable moments, defensive driving skills, and other useful information for staying safe on the road? We found a few helpful tips:

  1. Sleep. We all know that teens have a weird relationship with sleep, but the brain does a ton of work while the body is at rest. Coach your teen on making smart sleep decisions as a matter of self-care rather than parental rule. Well-rested people are better at retaining information. This goes for you, too, parents.

  2. Memory Palace. While at a familiar red light, ask your teen several observational questions about the environment. Later, once the car is parked, have your teen visualize that intersection again and describe it back to you. Ask a few “what if” questions about that scenario. As your teen thinks through responses, the visualization exercise will help commit the information to memory.

  3. Chunking. This involves remembering items that are grouped together. For instance, you memorize phone numbers by how they are grouped within the hyphens. Break things down into 2 or 3 bite sized chunks and have your teen driver memorize them as a sequence for better retention.

  4. Spaced Repetition. Explain a concept, reiterate it a few minutes later, and then ask your teen to explain it back. Wait a bit longer, and ask a question related to the information. Ask that question again at an even later interval, even several days later. The repetition will help your teen transfer the information to long-term memory.

I left out the tips that involved writing, but taking notes is great to keep in mind for reviewing best practices when you’re not in the car.

What if something does go wrong, such as a minor accident or a near miss? Remember that your teen’s brain (and your own brain), is having a stress response to the event. Some memories will be wiped out, and the others will be associated with the adrenaline produced at that time. Have you ever had a flashback to a scary moment and felt your whole body react? Don’t make your teen associate that stressful moment with anything other than your parental love and protection.

Mother talking with teen daughter sitting on bed

Later, when everything is calm and everyone is confirmed safe and unhurt, bring it up calmly and discuss the lessons learned and future preventions.

When you teach calmly and patiently, your teen will be less nervous behind the wheel. When they know they can depend on you to stay calm, they’ll grow the confidence they need to become safe and experienced drivers.

Do you worry about your ability to stay calm while your teen driver gets behind the wheel?

Your teen is depending on you to set the tone for safe and productive driving lessons. Take a look at our resources before you start teaching so that you can coach your teen to becoming a safe driver:


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