Crafting Confidence Behind the Wheel: A Guide for Parents Teaching Teens to Drive

For many teens, driving represents a major step towards freedom and independence. Most kids leap at the chance to get behind the wheel and will be keen to learn the rules of the road. 

As a parent, it’s your job to ensure that your teen learns to drive safely and with confidence. This is particularly important if your child feels apprehensive about driving and needs some extra reassurance. 

Building Trust 

Trust is crucial to parenting at all ages. However, mutual trust is particularly important for your teen. Showing your kid that you trust them behind the wheel will give them confidence and help them make more assured decisions while on the road. Likewise, they need to trust your knowledge of local roadway laws. 

If you’re unfamiliar, start relearning these rules yourself. As an experienced driver, it may have been some time since you last took a practical exam or the specific language used throughout. Re-acquaint yourself with the US DMV test and make sure you can still pass it today. This will show your teen that you’re taking their driving seriously and are prepared to help them out. 

When it’s time to get behind the wheel, take it slow and give your teen a chance to be successful. Don’t send them straight onto the freeway or make them parallel park on a busy street. Instead, focus on learning the basics of car maneuvering in a safe place like an empty parking lot. As time goes by, give them new challenges that are slightly harder than the last thing they did. This will build their confidence and help build mutual trust in their skills. 

Staying Calm

Teens can make some bizarre decisions. David Ludden, professor of psychology at Georgia Gwinnett College, explains that this is due to a need for “peer-group acceptance” and social pressure. As a parent, you can fulfill your child’s need for acceptance and understanding by staying calm when you’re behind the wheel. 

When your teen makes a mistake, focus on remaining calm and composed in the moment. You may need to have them make an emergency stop, but should only be as vocal as necessary. Do not try to analyze the mistake while driving, as this will only cause further distraction. Instead, wait till you’ve stopped somewhere and ask them gentle questions like: 

  • What do you think could have gone better in that situation? 
  • If you could do that again, what would you change? 
  • Is there anything you’re confused about? 

These questions will get your teen to think clearly without the pressure to be right. This will lead to a deeper understanding of the rules of the road and will help your teen become a more self-aware driver. 

After you’ve finished with the lesson, consider burning off some steam with a reward. Rewarding your teen with something like a trip to the movie theater builds a positive association between driving and happiness. You could even have them drive you there, as they’ll be certain to visit their favorite destinations once they’ve passed their test. 

Key Skills

Every time you get behind the wheel, you’re using a host of skills to keep yourself, and other road users, safe. Help your teen get up to speed quickly by teaching them key driving skills like:

  • Vehicle Control: Teach your teen how to smoothly change gears and use critical tools like indicators, lights, heaters, and window washers. 
  • Hazard Perception: Most drivers develop a sixth sense of disaster. Your teen, however, has to rely on their vision. Teach your teen to look in the right places when driving, as this can save them from cyclists, pedestrians, and other drivers. 
  • Spatial Awareness: Effective driving is all about checking mirrors and being spatially aware. Get your teen to start routinely checking their mirrors and have them narrate what they are seeing/thinking. 

These key skills will keep your teen safe while they learn to drive. This is important, as a crash will set them back and leave them feeling shaken. Be sure to test them on their vehicle control (indicators, lights, window wipers), as they may not know how to use their full beam or adjust the wheel position just yet. 

Common Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes from time to time when behind the wheel. However, your teen needs to be near-perfect if they want to pass their driving exam. You can prepare them for success and build their confidence by showing them how to avoid common mistakes. 

Start by teaching them about distracted driving. Contrary to popular belief, cell phones aren’t the only potential distraction when you’re behind the wheel. There are three types of distracted driving

  • Cognitive: This occurs when your focus is derailed. This may be due to talking with passengers, listening to a radio show, or driving when in a heightened emotional state. 
  • Manual: Your teen should never take their hands off the wheel. Manual distractions, like reaching to change the radio station, can impair road awareness and lead to a serious crash. 
  • Visual: Taking your eyes off the road is a recipe for disaster. Even momentary distractions, like looking at a GPS, can cause a collision. 

Avoiding these mistakes will build your teen’s confidence and help them avoid major accidents. Be firm when teaching them and model perfect behavior by never reaching for a cell phone when behind the wheel. 


Taking care of the logistics for your teen can help them feel secure when they do get behind the wheel. Get the insurance process started for them by finding appropriate car insurance for teens. You can also find better coverage at a low cost if you’re able to track your teen’s driving behaviors like their acceleration speed and proximity to other drivers. 

You should also make sure they meet the standard eyesight requirements before testing their driving abilities. If they’ve been exhibiting warning signs of vision issues, such as squinting while driving or rubbing their eyes a lot, it may be time to check in with their eye doctor so they can pass a standard eye exam before their driver’s test. 

Once your teen does get their license, a whole world of opportunity opens up to them. Help them make the most of their newfound freedom by encouraging them to apply for jobs that require a license. This will give them plenty of experience and help them build their confidence while working behind the wheel.