Being the parent of a new teen driver has its advantages. Anyone? Anyone?

image For teens, getting a driver’s permit symbolizes a rite of passage toward independence. For parents, however, it is simply a right to pass out — Preferably before they can make it into the passenger seat. Not that my teen wouldn’t drag my unconscious body into the car anyway, thereby meeting the “accompanied by a licensed adult” clause in his permit.

After reading The Oregon Parent Guide to Teen Driving, I can tell you nowhere in that pamphlet does it specify that “said adult” is to be “conscious” or “buckled and/or otherwise strapped in of his own accord” while the vehicle is in motion. Ideally using all four wheels.

This is what is known as a “technicality.” And trust me, if there’s a way to use it to their advantage, teenagers will find it. That’s why I spent extra time going through this pamphlet, knowing it could be used against me in a court of law. Or over breakfast. What I discovered is that the person who wrote this guide either a) never had teenagers of their own, b) grew up in the 1950s, or c) probably grows his own marijuana.

I mean, come ON. Look at this cover…


Seriously? I’ve driven with my teen. The only reason I’d put my hand behind his head-rest would be to grab a fistful of hair or, at the very least, dig my fingers so far into the back of the seat I could control him like a ventriloquist’s dummy.

And what’s with the woman smiling and pointing? Unless I’m showing my teenager where to park so I can make it into emergency room quicker, hopefully before my stroke, I don’t do a whole lot of smiling while we drive. If I do, it’s a forced smile meant to provide the illusion of being comfortable. This never actually works because I look more like a chimpanzee smiling for a treat — lips flared back and eyes wide open.

Another clue this pamphlet was written by someone who has never had a teenager in their home is in the first suggestion, which regards practice driving: “Only practice when both of you are in good moods, and not for more than 30 minutes at a time.” The last portion of that sentence is the only thing that makes any sense. That’s because any parent with teenagers knows they are rarely in a good mood for more than 30 minutes at a time anyway. So a 30-minutes-or-less limit is definitely achievable. The trick is finding them in a good mood, then maintaining it without things turning into the “Fast and Furious.” And by that I mean him driving too fast and me getting furious.

With that in mind, I have taken it upon myself to offer a few, more realistic suggestions for parents teaching their kids to drive.

1) Set a good example. In addition to checking the mirrors, seat position and signal lights, I have started reciting the Rosary whenever we go for a practice drive. I find that it adds a sense of reverence to the occasion. Having your priest come bless the vehicle every time you leave the driveway isn’t a bad idea either, unless he stops returning your calls like ours did.

2) Make your expectations clear. Before your teen even starts the engine, make it clear that you expect to return home alive. Even if it means wrestling the steering wheel away from him or her by knocking them unconscious. Explain to them how, as a parent and licensed driver, you are responsible for their safety as well as the safety of everyone else on the road, in cross walks, waiting at bus stops, eating at restaurants with outdoor seating, and any businesses that don’t currently have a drive-thru.

3) Remain calm at all times. A nervous driver is a dangerous driver. Do your best to offer driving instruction and suggestions in a calm matter. At least until you leave the house and actually get into the car, at which point no one can blame you for getting nervous when your teen forgets to look first before changing lanes in front of a car worth three times as much as yours, causing you to practically shove your feet through the floorboards AND START TOTALLY FREAKING OUT BECAUSE YOU’RE PRETTY SURE IT WAS THE SAME COP WHO APPARENTLY HAS NO LIFE AND WRITES TICKETS FOR FUN ON HIS DAYS OFF, DAMN IT!

4) Teach the rules of the road. Just because your teen passed his or her written test doesn’t mean they know the rules of the road. For example, I know for certain there is nothing on the test explaining the Single Scratch Rule: A single scratch on a family car can result in a teen driver having their driving privileges revoked for up to five years. Or the Bring It Home On Empty Rule, which states: Any teen who brings the family vehicle home with an empty tank shall be required to refill the tank by walking to and from the farthest gas station using a Dixie Cup.

And lastly,

5) Stress the importance of proper parking: With so much emphasis on driving, the importance of knowing how to park properly is often overlooked. I am reminded of this whenever I go grocery shopping and come out to find my car wedged between two SUVs, forcing me to look as though I’m performing a David Blaine illusion just getting back in. Explain to your teen that this is poor driver courtesy. And how, as a courtesy to other drivers, we have a responsibility to fill the area between those SUVs with as many metal shopping carts as we can.

So consider this your warning that our son has officially passed his permit exam and will soon be joining you on the road! I promise to do my best in preparing him to be a safe and skilled driver. As you can see from this photo taken during his exam, I’m confident there’s nothing to worry about…



(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, or Barnes & Noble.)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

88 thoughts on “Being the parent of a new teen driver has its advantages. Anyone? Anyone?”

  1. I feel your pain in every way. Dane has been learner’s permit driving for over a year and now has the restricted license allowing him to drive to and from school and practice or a job.
    In this year, he’s gone from mama’s slow driving, responsible dude to Speedracer with a mission and a moustache. How did this happen…and where is my passenger’s side brake?
    I finally know why they call the handle above your head an “oh s*$(” handle.

    It’s times like these that it’s appropriate to bring out every prayer and movie reference available. Heaven help us all and may the odds be ever in your favor.

    1. Oh how I WISH the “passenger-side brake” was a real thing! I’m thinking if I stop talking about it and actually crap my pants while driving with him it might get him to be a better (more fearful) driver…?

  2. Brings back memories (not necessarily good ones). My husband had the main job of teaching our girls to drive, but I would also take them out on weekends, mostly so I could teach them how to BACK UP. Why didn’t Dad, who backs into every parking spot, think to teach his kids how to do the same thing? Handling a car that’s rolling in reverse is hard!

    So, I would take my girls to the local college campus on a Sunday in summer when most of the students were on break. We would practice backing up between the parking lines and between other vehicles, and driving around an empty lot in reverse. Two of my girls were hesitant and therefore drove quite gently. But the third? After she kept repeating “This is fun! Wheee!” a number of times while speeding around the edge of the lot in reverse, narrowly avoiding those light standards – and just at the point when I realized my breakfast was not going to stay down much longer – I ended the day’s lesson. She was disappointed. I was not.

  3. I took lessons from my dad, and nearly hit the fence of the high school parking lot. After that, I did a driving course. The instructor, on my first day behind the wheel, directed me to drive onto the interstate. Which, where I live, is the equivalent of taking a tiny bird to the Grand Canyon and throwing it over in the hopes that it will learn to fly out of sheer panic. Yipes.

    1. Wow! I’m not sure the “sink or swim” approach is the right one for driving; that scenario doesn’t usually include taking anyone down with you!

  4. lol. That lady is smiling. My mother didn’t smile when I was learning to drive. Or the time I almost jumped the curb and into a store window. Nope, there was no smiling. As a matter of fact, she still doesn’t smile when I’m driving. Go figure. 😉

    1. Haha! At least she gets into the car with you. I suppose that’s a start. Who knows? You may yet get a smile out of her in another 10 years or so…

    1. Ha! Ha! Thanks, Stephanie 🙂
      I learned on a stick also — in a VW squareback — with my mom’s help. To show my thanks, I should’ve given her a free trip to the chiropractor after all that jerking around and gear popping. I honestly think she could’ve gone pro on the rodeo circuit the way she handled that experience.

                1. Gotch’a! I just thought a Cliff Bar might be your energy food of choice 😉 But yeah, Alan King Jr. has a better ring to it.

                  Although Alan Ned King, Jr. isn’t bad either…

  5. All I can say is good luck with that thing you’re doing, Ned. I thought I had dodged this bullet altogether by not having children, yet the bullet found me when I wound up teaching my nephew how to drive my stick shift car. That’s when I learned that clutches actually *do* burn, and when they do, they smell like formaldehyde. I conducted the rest of our lesson with wads of Kleenex stuffed up both nostrils. Had I more foresight I’d have added a blindfold.

    1. Lol! I learned on a stick, and remember that stench very well, Karen! Now, both of our cars are automatics, but if it makes you feel any better the formaldehyde smell has been replaced with the distinctive aroma of perspiration and fear.

  6. My son is 4 months old, so I am still in the ignorance-is-bliss zone of parenting. My own father, when teaching me to drive, did his best to uphold #3. However, while his face and tone remained calm, I couldn’t help but take my eyes off the road to notice him desperately applying the imaginary break and using most of his mental faculties to force his arm down away from the “Oh Sh*t” bar (e.g. assist handles) while HE never took his eyes off the road or their accompanying speed limit signs. I at least never broke the Single Scratch Rule.

    1. Lol! My mom taught me, on a stick, and she was very patient as I jerked the clutch so hard our heads almost hit the ceiling several times. Your father sounds like an equally patient man.

      Enjoy this time with your child. Once they start driving you’ll wish they were still in training wheels 😉

  7. Oh, Ned. I wish you only the best with this stage of child-rearing. If you make it through this, you will make it through other stages to come! 🙂

    I remember having to remind the kids that when I yell STOP, it means STOP like NOW. Not in a few seconds, I mean STOP IMMEDIATELY. For some reason they struggled with what I meant by stop.

    I do admit that I made a mistake with my second child. I wanted her to feel confident about her abilities and had heard of other parents doing this so the day she got her permit (which was located 30 minutes away), I handed her the keys and told her she was going to drive home. OMG. I traumatized her for life and almost lost mine!! Oops. 🙂

  8. Oh Ned, her hand isn’t on the head rest – it’s holding a small .22 calibre pistol and she is pointing at where the bullet is going to exit the windshield..

    May the force be with you. 😀

  9. You nailed it with this one Ned!!!! just reading this brought back the anxiety I once felt when it came time to teach my three teens to drive. The oldest thought she knew EVERYTHING …..but it was apparent that she didn’t because she almost scared the shit out of her little brother when inside of putting the car in reverse she put it in drive and gunned it. Sending all of us flying forward.

    My son started crying and pleading “just take me home….I don’t want to do this anymore” and my oldest calling him a pussy.

    When it came to teaching my second daughter how to drive I wasn’t as anxious as I thought…..I found out during the first, that having a little glass of wine….helps the nerves!!

    When it came time to teach my son how to drive….my nerves quickly came back when I saw that he had both feet on the peddle and asked which was the brake and which one was the “go peddle” . At that point , he needed to go back to reading the 1950 how to drive manual because it was obvious he hadn’t been paying attention though out the years!!!

  10. You forgot one rule — WEAR DEPENDS. It’s a must for me while on those practice drives with my son.

    How about you drive east with your son and I drive west with my son. We meet in the middle, put them in the same car together, follow them and take bets on how long they survive? Deal?

  11. Being The Parent of a New Teen Driver Has Its Advantages, said no parent, ever. When I look at the photo of him (I’m assuming you didn’t snap a photo of someone else’s kid), all I can see is a baby sitting there taking the test. I’d send you a bottle of Valium, but I think I’d better save any I come across for when my son gets his permit in 3 years. Does it say anything about sitting in the way back seats of my minivan when my son begins to drive?

    1. Haha! Yeah, that’s my son. It wasn’t until afterward that I realized it’s illegal to take photos in the DMV office — so I’m an outlaw.

      You might want to consider purchasing a used stretch limo to sit as far away as possible 😉

  12. Just another rite of passage….as a parent. Wait til you hand them the keys for the 1st time & you are not in the car with them. That’s when the fun really begins! It gets easier my friend, hang in there!

        1. I think it’s a conversation that would go like this:
          Security: Please remove all metal items
          Me: My keys are sugically attached to my palm because I have a teen driver
          Security: Move along.

  13. Sounds like you have everything under control, Ned. Between driver’s education, the written test, and your extra tips, your son will be a pro in no time. 🙂

    I taught our son to drive. He didn’t take driver’s ed, so I took him to an empty K-Mart parking lot, put him behind the wheel, and told him to “have at it.” That was all I did. He drove like a kid on crack for a while (not that he’s ever been on crack), and he finally had a feel for the car. With all those nice parking spaces already provided, he did pretty good with parking, too. He was on his own after that. Easy peasy.

    1. Lol! Thanks 😉 Fortunately, we live in a small town (Pop. 8,000), so there are plenty of back roads to take. I gave my son his first lesson in the high school parking lot on a Saturday. Lots of open space and parking spots for backing into. Plus, I practiced running out in front of him from the bushes so he could get used to driving there on a school day.

      1. An empty parking lot is really the perfect spot. Our son was 18 at the time and maybe a little more grounded than when he was 16, but he really had a good feel for backing, turning, and maneuvering after an hour of messing around in that lot. Driving straight down the road was a piece of cake after that. I didn’t think about running out in front of him, so he could practice avoiding THE DEER HE HIT THIS PAST WINTER, but it’s a little late for that tip now. 😉

  14. Thanks for the tips, I reckon I’ll be taking my daughter out soon for driving lesson. She seems a bit nervous even before she starts so who knows how it will go, half an hour slots might be all both of us can manage!

  15. One night we had the nightmare in reality. Our daughter in an accident, the car totaled. Did not care she was okay and that was all that mattered. She took it hard but I told her metal can be replaced. We never talk about it even after ten years. Now her kid is going to drive soon and I know she is upset with the concept.

    1. For me, I know I joke as a way of relieving the worry I feel. And you’re right; I’ll take twisted metal over a twisted child any day and twice on Sunday.

  16. I laughed so hard I could barely keep reading through the tears. Better you than me, is all I have to say, Ned. I was lucky enough to meet my husband when his son was 19 yrs, and my granddaughter is only 1 1/2, so she’s got a ways to go yet. By the time she gets her license I’m hoping I’m on really good drugs to keep my alive. LOL

    1. Your granddaughter will probably be driving a hover-car, so you probably won’t be much help anyway 😉 At least, that’s what I’m counting on when we have grandkids!

  17. There is a benefit: limited service and permanently on-call chauffeur. When my twin daughters passed their license tests six months ago we handed over the keys to our 13 year old, 186,000 mile Dodge Caravan–not exactly a cool cruiser they want to drive around and show off. Added upside: no more waking up at 5:45 to get them to the gym for strength training, no more driving them out to their boondock friends’ houses and retrieving them at 11pm and–ba dah!–I have a pair of on-call designated drivers, should I happen to decide on a second pint of hoppy pleasure when we go out for dinner (though we can’t afford that any more, due to the insurance costs.)

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