Sweet Sixteen

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It might be one of the scariest and happiest moments you experience as a parent; the day your precious baby becomes a licensed driver. On the bright side, you have some help shuttling younger siblings around and you may never have to run back to the store for that one thing you forgot.  However, the terror that you experience every time your child gets behind the wheel of a 2-ton machine is indescribable.  The dangers race through your mind, making you want to break out the bubble wrap you considered wrapping them in when they learned to walk.

What can you, as a parent or other role model, do to help keep your teen safe on the road?

  • Practice safety. It was true when they were learning to talk and you didn’t want them to use certain “colorful” language. It’s true now. Your child, no matter how old, learns more by watching the world around them than they do through lectures. When you observe laws, buckle up, and pay attention to the road rather than your phone or your food, your teen driver is more likely to do so as well.

  • Know the laws.  A lot of new laws have taken effect since you were a new driver. Missouri and Illinois both have a Graduated Driver’s License program, with more stringent requirements and restrictions than in years past.  Consequences for driving offenses are also more stringent. Talking to your teen about this takes some of the pressure off you as the “bad guy.”

  • Talk about rules. Beyond laws, you will want to discuss your family’s expectations regarding safety, payment, cleanliness, and more. Guidelines work best when they are clear, reasonable, and enforceable. Do this before there are any problems. Give your teen the chance to have input on what their responsibilities should be and what the consequences will be if there are problems. Of course, don’t forget the nonnegotiable rules (also laws) like no alcohol/drug use and no texting/internet while driving. Say it, even if you think it goes without saying.

  • Make a deal. You know your child best, but this is a busy and exciting time for them. They may have trouble remembering what you’ve agreed upon or may argue that they didn’t understand. Sometimes it is best to put it in writing. If everyone involved reads and signs an agreement, it is difficult to forget what it includes.

  • Teach maintenance. It is not unusual for a teen to be unaware of the need to keep tires properly inflated, to check and change oil, or what to do when a dashboard warning light comes on. Take the time to teach them and check in on occasion to make sure they remember. Improper maintenance is often a contributor to accidents, and there is also inherent danger in breaking down on the side of the road.

Rest assured, parent. With education, open communication, and clear expectations, you and your teen can navigate this new world safely.

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