Image of a mother teaching her teen daughter how to drive.

Teaching Your Teen To Drive

Updated October 1, 2020 . AmFam Team

Support your teen behind the wheel with tips for teaching and encouraging them along the way.

Teaching your teen how to drive comes with a range of emotions — excitement, worry and pride. But at the end of the day, it’s simple: every parent’s dream is for their teen to thrive in life, and their newfound freedom behind the wheel is a big part of that.

It might feel overwhelming at first, so we’ve gathered some tried-and-true tips for parents who are teaching their kids how to drive. These driving skills tips offer the perfect starting point to help you approach the hours of supervised driving ahead with confidence.

Before You Start Your Teen’s Driving Lesson

So, when do you know that your teen is ready to start driving? Typically, it’s a question each state answers in their own way. The best way to teach your teen to drive is to check in online with your state's department of motor vehicles (DMV).

Understand the graduated drivers licensing rules in your state

Each state has different rules that define when student drivers are eligible for an instruction learner’s permit. Check online with your state’s DMV (Opens in a new tab) to learn about age restrictions and licensing options for young drivers.

Review driver’s education class materials

If your teen is taking a driver’s education class in high school or through a private group, be sure to sync up your instruction with the educational materials used there. You’ll help your child study and reinforce the weekly lessons with real-world training, where the rubber meets the road.

Tips for Teaching Your Teen to Drive

Teaching your teen to drive is more than just getting them familiar with the car and its various functions. One of the key tips for parents teaching driving is to instill confidence in your child’s ability to navigate stressful situations correctly. Take a look at these tips on teaching a teenager to drive so they can build core skills and become a more capable driver:

Speak and act calmly

Remember, your teen is probably nervous about driving! Put yourself in their shoes and coach them through the driving process.

Instead of correcting driving mistakes, ask questions

“How fast should you be going right now?” or “Talk to me about how you handled that last stop sign.” This reduces the anxiety your teen may be having, while teaching them how to be aware of the road.

Try something like: “You’re going to turn right up here, and the people coming from the left don’t have a stop sign. What should you do?”

Put away the phones

Make sure they put their phone in the glove box. Same goes for you!

Encourage openness

Before you go on any driving lessons with your teen, set the expectation that they should ask if they’re unsure of what to do.

Boost their confidence

When your teen is learning how to drive, they need to hear what they're doing right too, so make sure you tell them when they've done a good job.

Teen Driving Skills Checklist

It’s key to be prepared for what’s ahead when you’re teaching your teen to drive. You’ll want to plan out where you’re going be driving and review the basic skills you’ll be teaching. Consider picking up a workbook on teaching your teen how to drive — they’re a great option that can lay out a detailed roadmap on what to teach and when.

As your teen begins to master basic skills, like accelerating and braking safely, you can begin to explore other driving skills for beginners. From gaining special awareness to multitasking — like using the turn signal, checking blind spots and parallel parking — there’s always more abilities to master.

Up next, we'll take a look at a driving skills checklist for teens so you’ll have an idea of how to help your teen gain confidence on the road.

Understanding the Vehicle

Be sure to have your owner’s manual out and open to the dashboard section so you can better explain how each item works when teaching your teen to drive.

Once your teen has their driving learner’s permit, it’s time to get them familiar with a driving checklist and everything they’ll need to know for safe driving. Take a look at these ideas to get your kid feeling comfortable behind the wheel with our new driver checklist:

  • Adjust the steering wheel and driver’s seat
  • Fine-tune the rear-view and side mirrors
  • Explore the way the windshield wipers operate and review the intermittent wiper functions
  • Teach your teen how to turn your car’s emergency blinkers and lights on and off
  • Explore the meaning of on-dash warning lights and messages
  • Pop open the glove box and review the contents — and be sure your teen knows where the registration and auto insurance card is stored
  • Pull down the sun visor and discuss the importance of visibility during sunny conditions
  • Review the climate controls and explore how to turn on and off the defrosting systems for the front and rear windshields
  • Explore the features like seat or steering wheel warmers if equipped
  • Dive into the functions that open the hood, gas cap lid and the rear hatchback or trunk

Once your child’s had time to get familiar with the position and function of each dashboard item, it’s time to put your introduction into action! Start up the engine and review each function with the car in park. Don’t let your teen start it up or move the vehicle until you’re sure they’re ready.

Mastering Driving Basics

To build your teen’s confidence and skills while driving, take them on familiar routes. Have them drive to school, the library or grocery store and focus on handling, braking and accelerating.

Mix it up and drive at night when you feel they’re ready and be sure to introduce them to the tenets of defensive driving (Opens in a new tab) early on. As you continue to teach your teen to drive, make sure to check in on these key driving skills for beginners:

  • Start your teen’s driver education in an empty parking lot
  • Driving practice should start with a review of the gas and brake pedals
  • Review the turn signal system 
  • Spend time exploring the steering wheel controls
  • Teach your child about how to use the radio and music system responsibly
  • Be sure your kid is familiar with how to buckle other children into child safety seats
  • Discuss how blind spot warning systems work if the car has them installed
  • Review how the airbags operate and how to hold the steering wheel safely
  • Get your teen familiar with the headlights and turning on the fog lights, if equipped
  • Explore how anti-lock brakes engage and under what circumstances
  • Review the four-second rule for highway driving
  • Teach your teen how to parallel park
  • Take sample online driving tests your child will have to sit for when applying for a driver’s license

Be sure to get your teen a copy of the rules of the road for your state (Opens in a new tab) which familiarizes your child with road signs, speed limits and other key details teen drivers need to know.

Is your teen already doing great with the basics? Take their driving to the next level with these teen driving tips they need to know.

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