“I Tried to Teach My Teenager to Drive”: Stories That Will Make You Think Twice

December 11, 2019


On the road


Mariella Attard

Do you remember learning to drive? There’s a good chance those memories are punctuated by the sound of a parent gasping, nervously cracking their knuckles (or indulging in some other weird, involuntary habit) and yelling “Stop!” really loudly five metres before every intersection.

If you’re 'lucky' enough to be granted the privilege of passing on your road wisdom to a teenage member of the species, you might want to learn a thing or two from those who’ve gone before you. And you might regret (just a bit) how little appreciation you showed for what they were going through when you were in the driver’s seat. 

But don’t be disheartened. Like so many other aspects of parenting, it’s all worthwhile - isn’t it? 

In space, no-one can hear you scream (but in a car it’s really loud)

Have you ever found yourself on a quiet street, listening to birdsong and the wind rustling through the trees, when the peace is suddenly shattered by a shriek? It’s possible you may have run across (not over) my friend Myra.

Myra’s teaching her 17-year-old son to drive. The thing is, this isn’t her first rodeo. She’s already taught her now 21-year-old daughter. No dramas. But it’s not going so smoothly this time.

“I have this reflex where, if we’re about to have a near miss, I shriek,” Myra admits. 

Unfortunately, there are many near misses. She says Sydney is partly to blame. 

She reels off a list of common misdemeanours: “People go through red lights, they don’t stop at roundabouts, they don’t indicate, people reverse out of driveways without looking. 

“I shriek at all of that. I shriek at everything.”

Unfortunately it’s making the atmosphere in the car - and for some hours afterwards - “really tense”.

“He hates it when I shriek. He can’t cope. After a shriek, we’re done.”

100 or more hours in a car with your teenager - what could possibly go wrong?

Australian learner drivers have to log a minimum number of supervised hours before they’re allowed to take the wheel alone. In NSW, where Myra lives, that number is 120, 20 of them between sunset and sunrise. That’s many more than most of us had to complete when we got our licenses (just after they phased out the horse and carriage).

Myra says that’s a good thing.

“I know a lot of people fudge the hours,” she says. “But I actually make my kids do them because I want them to be good drivers.

”If you live in a dense urban area that can mean a lot of driving in circles, in a confined space, with a teenager who, frankly, thinks they have better things to do. (It’s no picnic in regional areas either.)

Myra admits that this time round it hasn’t really been the bonding experience she’d hoped for.  She puts that down to personality, and to differing levels of risk-taking. 

“My daughter is a very cautious person,” she tells me.

“But the very first time I took my son for a driving lesson, I was saying do this, do that, and he says to me, ‘It’s okay Mum, I’ve got this’.

“‘You know what, darling? I don’t think you do!’”

You can teach them a lesson, but you won’t get off scot-free

Parent teaching daughter to drive a car

It’s a well known fact that parents don’t know anything, and they just don’t understand. In fact, there’s even a very handy little phrase to encompass just how passionately teenagers feel that, and how much they want you to know it too - ok boomer?

Thankfully, there is an antidote for someone thinking they know everything, and that’s putting them into a position where they quickly discover that in fact they don’t. Different road surfaces, hazards, city peak hour, long distance road trips, winding mountain tracks, different weather conditions - 120 hours gives you the opportunity to put a learner in that position over and over again.

Of course, it puts you there right along with them.

“We came to one of those really sharp corners and he wasn’t slowing down,” Myra recollects, her voice wavering.
“I’m like, ‘Slow! Slow! Like, really really slow. Really slow. Otherwise you’re going to lose control. You’ll go off the edge.’”

She wouldn’t say if that was a shrieking moment. I’m betting it was.

Myra’s top tips for teaching teens to drive.

  1. Do the hours (day and night).
  2. Give your kids experience in different situations, road surfaces, city, country, long, peak hour, winding, boring…
  3. Breathe.
  4. Stay under the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit! (Did you even know you have one? It’s 0.05)
  5. Try not to scream.

Mariella Attard

Mariella is a Sydney based writer for Smith's Lawyers. She has had her work published in The Guardian, The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and worked as a Digital Producer for the ABC for many years. She covers newsworthy topics and opinion pieces, as well as interviewing subjects for articles.