Your Teen has a Driver’s License - Now What?
Parenting comes with all kinds of milestones that produce conflicting emotions. When your child leaves for their first day of school, you’re excited for the new adventure, but sad that your baby is growing up. When they are first allowed to ride their bike to a friend’s house, you’re proud of their independence but scared they might get hurt beyond your careful watch. When your teenager gets their driver’s license, you feel an immense amount of pride, but you’re also quite worried about the decisions they’ll make behind the wheel and whether or not they can handle this new responsibility.
The truth is that your teen is probably not quite mature enough or experienced enough to have a great deal of freedom once they have their license in hand. Some parents feel as though maintaining limits and boundaries on driving once their teen passes the license test is unfair, kind of like a bait and switch. But the truth is that it’s actually good parenting. One test does not an experienced and competent driver make. Your teen has proven that they know enough to pass the driving test, but they still need time to become a safe and mature driver.
Build Trust in Your Teen’s Driving Skills Incrementally
Believe it or not, trusting your teen to drive independently is not an all-or-nothing proposition. When you started driving lessons, you didn’t go straight from the first parking lot lesson to hopping on the turnpike at Fort Washington during rush hour, right? You don’t suddenly lose all ability to set rules and limits just because your teen driver now has a license. You’re still the parent, and it’s your job to monitor your teen’s experience and maturity level before they have total road freedom.
Before your teen even gets their permit, it’s a good idea to set expectations. They need to know that they will still have rules around permission to drive even when they receive their license. The more your teen knows upfront, the easier time you’ll have extending their freedom at a manageable pace.
I covered a lot of boundary setting ideas in a previous post, and I encourage you to adopt that list and download the Safe Family Driving Pledge. Beyond those foundational precedents, there are some other monitoring tools available to you.
Many insurance companies ask you to place a transponder in your car to track your safe driving skills. If your teen is driving, make sure their phone is set up as well, and then use the app to monitor their speed and driving habits. Inform your teen that you’ll have an eye on the app and that driving privileges can be changed based on their safe driving habits.
One way to better supervise your child’s independent driving sessions is to require phone calls as opposed to text messages when they arrive where they say they’re going. A text message gives you very limited information. A phone call allows you to hear background noise, and it also requires your teen to verbally lie if that would be their intention. Kids tend to be more honest when they need to be more personally engaged in an activity. And don’t be afraid to let your teen know that you’ve activated location sharing on their phone and will be keeping an eye on their whereabouts.
Independent Trustworthy Driving is the Goal
Remember that monitoring your teen driver is not about micromanaging them for the long-term. You are supervising and holding them accountable while they grow in experience and maturity. As they begin proving themselves trustworthy, loosen the reins and allow for more freedom.
Even as they gain independence, let them know that you’ll still do random checks. Also, talk to them about real-world situations. Many families were rocked by a tragic accident after the Central Bucks East prom in June 2021, and it left parents wondering if their teens were really fully aware of the risks of driving. Don’t pull the old early 1990s method of “scaring them straight,” but use these notable situations to have conversations about reality and the importance of safe driving.
Licensed, But Maybe Not Road Ready?
If your teen has their license, but you’re just not feeling confident in their ability to be a safe driver, consider enrolling them in Safe Driving Lessons. We’ll take their current experience level into consideration as we work through a program to build safe driving skills. We help teens become responsible drivers who are ready to handle a variety of real-life situations.