Preparing for a Teen Driver

It’s happening. Our oldest child is ready to fly. Well, drive. Sixteen is around the corner, and we have been working hard to prepare our teen driver for life on the road and her new independence.

While we do feel a little trepidation, our overwhelming feeling is excitement. We have worked hard this last year to be ready to launch our teen driver, and wanted to share our experience with others. 

Teen standing in front of van with temporary license

Driver’s-permit prep

In Missouri, you can obtain a permit at 15, while Kansas allows 14-year-olds to be permit drivers. Take time to find and review all the required paperwork to apply for a permit. If you are unable to locate something needed,  now is the time to request it or make a plan to go track it down. 

Be sure your child has had a recent eye exam or if they already wear glasses or contacts, be sure they have them when they go to take the permit test as a vision test may be part of the requirement.

New driver requirements

While we know the legal age requirements vary by state, knowing when the time is right for your teen to obtain a permit lies with you. For our family, these were the factors we considered as we moved toward a license. 

Overall interest to obtain a driver’s permit

What work would our daughter do to help make it happen? We asked her to take the lead on finding and accessing the study book. In addition, she was tasked with asking us questions weekly as we drove her places, and letting us know what she didn’t understand.

She learned to actively watch while we drove, so she could more fully understand the rules of the road. We felt like this was very helpful over the past year as it gave us real-time opportunities to discuss driving situations. We had her ensure her phone was put away out of reach unless we were using it for mapping a location. 

Responsibility at home and school

Pay attention to your teen’s handling of school work, grades and personal goals. We also reviewed her home expectations, such as keeping her room tidy, and other chores as assigned.

Ability to pass a practice test

Before going to take the permit test or testing online if available (Kansas), we recommend taking a few practice tests online. 

Once your teen is able to pass the practice test and ready to officially test for their permit, it’s time to find and review all that paperwork again.

Next, review testing options to ensure no appointment is needed. This will depend on the requirements of your local exam station or motor vehicle department. Kansas does have an online permit test available if the state is able to validate your identity online. As of August, 2022, Missouri did not have an online test option. 

Note: Drivers license exam stations close for all federal holidays. Call to confirm hours. We have made a trip only to arrive to see that the office has shortened hours leading up to a holiday, or due to being short staffed.

On-the-road learning with your teen driver

yellow caution sign with copy Please be patient - student driver
Caution – Student Driver

Once your teen has passed their driver permit test at the exam station, it’s time to review the next steps by state to get the official documents needed for the permit. In Missouri, this requires a separate visit to the DMV. At our local DMV, the lines are long, so we made an appointment in advance.

Mom tip: Review all the paperwork AGAIN before you go. You will need all the things, including documents produced at the driver testing site. 

With the official permit in hand, our next step was to get “student driver” magnets for our car before we let her get behind the wheel. We opted for three magnets we found online, and they were easy to add and remove. We used them consistently, as it helped us feel like other drivers would be more patient with our slower pace. The magnets saved us lots of hurry-up honks. 

While our daughter had minimal driving experience prior to this, my husband, Andy, and I did feel like we wanted to try to teach her to drive ourselves. I know some people may prefer to hire a professional driving school or have their child attend a driver’s education course. 

If you are considering using a third party, be sure to review what resources or driving schools will be approved for learning hours. This can vary by state. 

With magnets on, we let her start driving in the neighborhood. Then, we allowed shorter trips to places nearby, like the grocery store, drug store, etc. Repetition helped, so even when she tired of driving the same routes, we kept having her drive them. 

Eventually, we moved to having her drive to work across town, and then added in short highway trips during non-peak hours. Overall, our daughter was a very responsible and cautious student driver. After nearly 10-plus months of student driving, the day has come to take the actual driving test. 

Before we head to the driver exam station, we are reviewing all the documents needed (again!) and doing a reminder of car features, so she is as ready as can be. Here’s hoping we only have to test once. If all goes as planned, I’ll be home while the teen drives herself to work for the first time. And if not, then we will try again another day. Either way, it’s been a good experience and we have all learned a lot about ourselves. We also know our next go-round with the next kid might be very different. Stay tuned on that. 

Reminders for parents of teen drivers

Teen standing by SUV
First solo drive in her vehicle

If you are nearing the time to have a teen driver, I’m excited for your family! 

Here are a few takeaways from our experience: 

  • Every teen will have their own timeline, age alone is not the only consideration
  • It’s OK to treat driving like a privilege.
  • Discuss phone safety and your expectations (hands-free only, no texting, no distractions with music playlists).
  • Model the driving behaviors you want to see from them.
  • Let them drive as often as possible, including driving at night or in rain, or other conditions, as they are ready.
  • Spend time reviewing requirements and rules in advance.

 

Hi, my name is Melanie Olson-Cox. I grew up in Lee’s Summit, MO & have chosen to raise my family here as well. I’m married to Andy, and we have 4 children, ranging in ages from 8-16. I currently work full-time for a local advertising & marketing agency. Prior to joining the agency full-time, I was a freelance social media manager & content creator while my children were younger.  I enjoy connecting with others and constantly learning how to be the best human I can be. Causes I am passionate about are: PTA & PTA legislative advocacy for public schools, Moms Demand Action, being an ally for LGBTQIA community & helping my kids learn that this world is a big place but they can make a difference - even in non-traditional ways. Raising kids is challenging - each age/phase brings new learnings and helps me grow as a person & as a parent. My hot take about parenting is “people (or our kids) often don’t want advice, but rather someone to listen and validate their feelings. After we do that, we can ask them if they want us to share experiences, struggles and emotions we went through with the hopes that it might help offer perspective.

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