Our very favourite blogs are those written by teens themselves and this is no exception. The author suggested the title “What I wish my parents had done differently when I was learning to drive”, which is still making us laugh. We’ve gone with the slightly less controversial “How to help your teenage learner driver” – always the positive angle at Equipp!
So a very big thank you to 19-year-old Mo for these helpful tips for anyone supervising learner drivers. And can we just say, if that’s your task right now – we feel your pain! It was definitely one of our least favourite bits of parenting teens!
Learning to drive
Learning to drive is one of the more stressful experiences for any teenager, and it seems to me that it’s often made worse by parents forgetting quite how difficult it is. I’ve been driving for over a year now and it already has become something that feels like second nature. So I understand how parents who have been driving for decades could find it hard to give really helpful advice. Hopefully this will help to refresh those memories of how strange and daunting it is to be sitting in the front right hand side of a car, with a big steering wheel in the way and three unfamiliar pedals at your feet, when you have never done so before.
Learn the latest requirements
My first tip, which came straight to mind when thinking about writing this blog, would be to learn the requirements for the practical test if you are going to take your learner out on the road. I remember my parents would give me instructions that they knew were necessary when my older brothers took their driving test. But these would always be followed by the words ‘although I’m not 100% sure if you have to do that anymore’. This was massively frustrating for me. Not only was driving taking up all my concentration at the time, but I also now had to practise doing something I knew I’d have to look up and see if it was actually going to be useful once I got out of the car.
Knowing the requirements of the test back to front is very useful for learners in general because although 16 minor errors may seem like a lot, you can pick them up very easily with a harsh and particularly vigilant examiner. Having a parent who knows their stuff back to front in the car with you when you’re learning is life-changing because it feels like all the practise you are doing is going to be effective. Under test conditions of the test, this can only boost your confidence when that dreaded day comes.
Learning with an instructor
Another thing which I wish my parents would have done for me is book lessons with an instructor first before I ever got in a car with them.
It’s easy to think as a parent that it’s cheaper to teach the basics yourself and then use an instructor to fine-tune technique and pass on advice on taking the test. But for me, the lessons that were most useful were the first two or three. This was when my instructor explained to me how everything in the car worked. We probably drove less than a mile overall, just practising clutch control and changing gears.
If you don’t feel like you know how the car works or that you are competent at changing gears and so forth, being on a proper road with other cars and your dad barking instructions at you is an absolute nightmare. Having an instructor who has an emergency break (which is rarely used) is like a massive comfort blanket when you first get on the road and are getting a sense of what you are doing. Once I could get around fine and just needed driving experience and time spent on the road, I found lessons to be less useful and not quite worth the money. However, at the beginning I felt like they were worth their weight in gold.
A small piece of advice I would recommend giving to learner drivers is not to get in the habit of going over the speed limit when overtaking cyclists, however boring it is as a parent waiting for them to safely pass (sorry, dad!). While this is only one of many mistakes a learner can make on their test, I have heard it as a reason for failure much more than any other. Overtaking cyclists is always stressful and there is a strong urge to do it as fast as possible to get it out of the way. However, if you do go over the speed limit or pass too closely it means that you fail your test. The best advice I received was to wait for as long as necessary and for a nice big gap between oncoming cars so that you can feel fully in control when doing so.
Don’t heap on the pressure to pass first time
Encourage them to practise but try not to put extra pressure on the test itself and passing the first time. There’s already enough stigma about not passing the first time. Along with the long wait for another test now, there’s enough pressure on learners without parents making it worse. You can take the test as many times as needed at the end of the day, so why let it be a massive cause of unnecessary stress? Lots of my friends who passed second time actually have ended up being better and more confident drivers due to extra practise with experienced adults.
I’m sure every learner would appreciate knowing that if they were to fail their parents would not be disappointed in them. I’m sure they would feel enough disappointment themselves, not having received the immediate sense of freedom a driving licence provides.
Plan to practise as much as possible just before the test
Something which I know my friends and I really appreciated was our parents being willing to get in the car and practice with us as much as possible in the few days before our tests. It can make all the difference. It’s actually quite calming when you feel you are skilled enough to be ready to take the test. It’s better for learners to be in the car practising than sitting around worrying about all the things that could go wrong on the day. When you’re a learner, driving itself requires so much concentration that it does a good job of stopping the mind wandering and hyper-focusing on nightmare scenarios.
I also found YouTube videos of instructors doing practice tests to be useful. It’s really helpful to see what it’s going to actually be like with an invigilator watching your every move.
Finally, I would tell them how funny it is that as soon as you pass you will never think about your driving test again. It seems like such a big deal at the time, and then after about a week you don’t really ever think about it again, unless someone brings up the subject.
I think if I had known quite how true this is it would have helped calm my nerves on the day a lot. Many of the tests that you are preparing for when you are 16-18 are quite important ones which massively influence the next few years of your life. It’s easy to feel when you are in that mind-set that your driving test is of the same nature.The reality is that, yes, you will be able to drive once you’ve passed, but if you fail you can simply do it again as many times as you need.
Although failure brings further waiting, once you pass, regardless of how many tests it takes, it’s all behind you and you can then drive for the rest of your life. In the grand scheme of things a few more months not being able to drive is really not a big deal, and the infrequency with which people who can drive think about what it was like being a learner and taking their driving test demonstrates this.
Learning how to be a safe and competent driver is the most important thing overall, and from my experience nobody really seems to find that part overly demanding. Therefore, I think the best way you can help a learner driver as a parent is to provide emotional support when the driving test date is nearing. Let them know it’s just one little stage in the learning process. It’s the part that caused me the most stress, of course, so that was when I was the most happy to have the support of my parents behind me.
Thank you, Mo, for these tips on how to help your teenage learner driver. Always so useful to hear it from the teenage viewpoint! We hope your advice makes the experience of learning to drive a little bit less stressful for families everywhere!
Louise & Anna x
A little bit about Equipp
We’re Louise & Anna, mum to 5 teens and young adults. We set up Equipp to help spread happiness and positivity amongst today’s amazing young people. We believe it’s vital that every teenager is given confidence to believe in themselves. Telling them how wonderful they are and putting a daily smile on their faces via the cards and gifts they receive from Equipp is integral to everything we design and produce. Have a browse around our collections of birthday and teenage milestone gifts and please do get in touch if you have any questions or would like any recommendation.
We love to celebrate teenagers in every way, and are building a community of parents who feel the same. We hope you enjoy reading our blog posts and we’d love it if you came and joined us on Instagram or Facebook to chat about parenting teens.
Oh, and we’re raising money for a fantastic teenage suicide prevention charity, Hector’s House, with a donation from every purchase from Equipp.