Watching My Teen Take the Wheel

This past year my teenage daughter has gone from passenger to driver. Last week, she received her restricted driver’s license, which means she can drive to work and school on her own. As I watched her drive away for the first time, I realized that this first solo driving trip wasn’t just about her exercising her new driving privileges behind the wheel, it was more about her taking the wheel of her own life. 

baby driving
My daughter “behind the wheel” as a toddler!

Until I was tasked with training a new driver, it hadn’t occurred to me that driving isn’t just about operating the vehicle. Yes, that is a critical part. I was lucky that my husband is a flight instructor and he agreed that if he could teach people how to operate airplanes and helicopters, he could be the primary driving parent for my daughter. He did a fantastic job of teaching her about the car and how to maneuver it. But don’t think your job is done once they can safely parallel park or merge onto the highway.

Driving also means you have to know how to get where you are going. Maps on phones and dashboards make it easier, but with all the statistics about distracted driving, we were adamant that our daughter know how to navigate without Google. We started working on this skill years ago.  We would ask her to look at the street signs and tell us which way to turn on the way to familiar places here in town.  When we visit new cities, we have our daughters help us map out where to go and how to get there.  For my daughter’s first drive, she proudly recited the directions to me. I could literally see how confident it made her feel knowing that she was in control of where she was going and knew exactly how she would get there. I know this will translate to helping navigate all the change and choices she will be making in the coming years.

Don’t forget the car insurance. Before we handed over the keys, I sat down with my daughter and explained the purpose and cost of car insurance. She knew the car cost money, but was astounded at the cost of insurance. She also hadn’t realized she needed to know how to prove she was insured. She didn’t even roll her eyes when I told her we needed to practice what she should do if she got pulled over or in an accident. She diligently showed me how to find the insurance and car registration and practiced what she would say. She also carefully listened as we talked through accident scenarios and how she should react (for example, don’t pull over on a dark road if you are rear-ended and by yourself!) I didn’t want to scare her, but I wanted her to know that she could handle any situation.  Thinking ahead is another way I realized that driving paves the way to adulthood.

And, of course, cars need fuel and all of our cars are gasoline powered. You have probably been working gas pumps for so long you don’t think twice about it, but it can be pretty confusing to a new user. While teaching my daughter how to use the gas pump, it struck me that gas pumps now all require credit cards. Gas stations do still take cash, but credit cards are really the easier option. So, we made the big leap of getting our daughter a credit card. That led to a discussion about how to use the card, how to keep it safe and what to do if the card got lost or stolen. Again, so many life lessons!

I watched my daughter get in the car before her first solo drive. She had a big smile on her face and her head held high. She might have even looked a little defiant with her chin jutting out a bit, letting me know that she was ready to head out on her own. But looking closer, I saw her hands carefully placed at 10 and 2 on the wheel, with a tight grip giving away her newbie driver status. She gave me one last glance as she turned the key and her smile said it all – “Yes, mom, I am a bit terrified too right now, but I’ve got this. Thanks for preparing me for this. Now try not to worry.” 

And I smiled back with a smile that I hope said, “Oh my darling, I will always worry, but yes, you absolutely can do this!”

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Lori grew up in Olathe and graduated from Kansas State University. Sick of cold weather, she left Kansas and headed to Phoenix. Turns out the heat can be just of hard to take as the cold, so she and her husband, Bill, moved back to Kansas so they could be close to both of their families. Lori is mom to a tween (Aubree who is 11) and a teen (Hana who is 15). Despite the challenges of raising two strong-willed girls who have way too many extracurricular activities, Lori loves having daughters who binge watch Charmed and Gilmore Girls with her while making clay dragons. She is passionate about photography, traveling, exploring around Kansas City and dragons.