Kathy Bernstein Harris is the Senior Manager for Teen Driving Initiatives at the National Safety Council. Follow Kathy as she shares her experiences teaching her own son to drive, from the perspective of a teen driving expert and a mom.
So…this teaching-my-son-to-drive thing promises to challenge me in new ways. I’m a mom who tends to “mother in the moment” and I toggle pretty freely through the parenting styles. Now I realize when it comes to teaching my kid to drive, I’ll probably fall into one category or the other. But what does that mean?
Psychologists have spent years defining the different ways adults parent their children. You probably recognize these parenting styles, but maybe not by name, so let’s review.
Sometimes I’m the permissive mom. You know, the mom who doesn’t care if my kid goes out to shovel snow without wearing gloves and a hat. He’s the one who will be cold and uncomfortable. He won’t die.
Other times, I’m the uninvolved mom. I couldn’t care less. Sometimes I really don’t want to know who’s being mean to whom (as long as there’s no bullying going on). Declan can figure it out on his own. And I certainly don’t want to be involved in Mairead’s pre-teen girl squabbles.
I can be the authoritarian mom – the mom who says “because I say so.” It worked for my mom in raising six kids. And frankly, I do know best when it comes to imminent danger.
When it comes down to it, though, I like to believe I’m the authoritative mom. I want my kids to understand why they need to study, why they can’t stay up all night watching Netflix when they have school the next day and why they need to practice the skills they are trying to master.
It’s that authoritative personality that I’m trying to use as my “teen driving coaching style” while teaching Declan how to drive.
I want him to understand why the rules – those Dan and I set for him and those included in Illinois teen driving laws – exist. They’re not there so we can make Declan’s life more difficult. I know as soon as he gets his full license, he’s going to want to drive around with friends, stay out late and use the car whenever he wants. But there are rules around those things because they’re proven to reduce teens’ ridiculously high crash risk.
A single friend in the car—just ONE—increases Declan’s fatal crash risk 44 percent. Driving at night significantly increases crash risk. And though there is no state law about when Declan can have the keys, I’m setting a household rule that he can’t just carry them around with him. We have a spare car that he will drive – it’s big, slow, and ugly, by the way – but he will not have full access to it. I want to know where he is going, when he is going there and when he will be back. Keeping the keys is one way I can do this.
So if you’re asking me, I think the authoritative parenting style might be the best approach when teaching teens to drive. I believe my son will gain more confidence if he understands that rules aren’t just there “because mom says so.”