How I’m Surviving Teaching My Teenage Daughter to Drive



Learning to drive is an exciting time in a young person’s life. It signals the onset of adulthood and the prospect of independence. While I forgot a lot from my childhood, getting my own driver’s license stands out. Teaching my teenage daughter how to drive has been a both terrifying and nostalgic experience. While I’m holding on for dear life in the passenger seat, I think back to driving lessons with my parents and driver’s ed in a cramped room. After that oh-so stressful driving test, I can picture the moment I earned that glorious 1.5 x 2″ laminated trophy! A trophy that allowed me beyond the reaches of my parents. A trophy that brought me respect and freedom. Oh, the days . . .

Here in New Hampshire a person aged 15.5 can start practicing driving. And as of June 26, that means my firstborn is now eligible for this rite of passage. This means I’m tasked to prepare her for this momentous next step in life. But it can be challenging especially when she is at a set of lights making a left turn and doesn’t stay in her lane FOR PETE’S SAKE STAY IN YOUR LANE!

And so it begins.

What You Need to for Teaching Your Teenager to Drive

Visit the NH DMV website for the specifics on what you need to legally allow your teenager to practice driving. Every state is different but I’ve summed up New Hampshire for you.

  1. There is no actual paper permit, but you must have proof of age to be 15.5 or older. We carry my daughter’s birth certificate in the glove box of the car.
  2. The parent, or responsible adult ages 25+, must have a valid driver’s license and must sit in the front seat. 
  3. You can not teach them to drive in a tractor trailer. Must be a regular vehicle.
  4. At age 16, with completion of a driver’s education class and supervised driving time, a person is eligible to take the driver’s knowledge test and subsequent road test.

Concrete Tips for Teaching Your Teenager to Drive

Side note: I will point out that a mother + teenage daughter relationship can be tricky in any given circumstance and if you add the stress of a 2-ton vehicle, things can get dicey. My dear moms, take a deep breath and know that your own mom is sitting at home laughing at your pain!

Tip #1: Bye Bye Phone for Everyone in the Car

The phone is a non negotiable. No phone near her while we drive. And I don’t mean vibrating or dinging in the cup holder. I mean AWAY where it can not be a distraction. After all this is a lesson she’ll need to take with her even when I am not there. #itcanwait

AAA has a “Keys2Drive” program and a teen-parent agreement that you can print out and both agree to your list of terms.

Parents, we also need to model good behavior and stow our phones away while driving. I don’t want to get too into the weeds with statistics about distracted drivers, but needless to say, our teens will be watching us with a keen eye during this learning phase and we should try to set a good example. Moms are addicted to technology, too. 

Tip #2: Pick Your Battles 

I purposely (and with deep concentration on my part) try not to correct every little thing. In addition to teaching her driving I am also trying to build her confidence on the road. I am also aware that a nitpicking style leads to her getting frustrated, likely tearing up and getting mad at me. Then, yelling will ensue. The end goal is for her to learn how to drive and not get into a fight with me. However, I will say, that we have had several conversations where I tell her that what I say goes in the car. This is not a scenario in which my instructions are open for debate (unlike everything else in her world, it seems).

This Washington Post article says it better than I can, and with some scary statistics about car accidents and teens, but the main message is for us parents to keep our emotions in check so that we can best teach our teens to have a good understanding of driving.

Tip #3: Practice in Wide Open Spaces First

She has been driving in parking lots for about 6 months already. We did several trial runs in wide-open spaces where she learned the feel of the car before actually going onto the road. We practiced parking, practiced turning and practiced backing up. Most importantly though, we practiced LISTENING TO MOM! By giving us the opportunity to communicate in a teaching style in a non-dangerous situation was very helpful to our future driving-on-the-road-don’t-kill-us style. 

State Farm has a beginners guide to learning to drive. Your car insurance provider might have something similar.

Tip #4: You’ll Know When Your Child is Ready for More

We take back roads and skip the highway, even today. We went from Exeter to Stratham for an appointment and we took a back road to skip the 82 sets of lights that exist between these two towns. While I know that navigating the nuances of lighted intersections is an important skill, for us that will come in time. You’ll know when your child is ready for more complex road conditions.

As part of the State of NH drivers education program to receive a drivers license, a person must complete 40 hours of supervised drive time outside of their formal drivers ed and 10 hours of nighttime driving. That means you will have time to observe your child and decide when they are ready for driving in more complete situations like in the rain or the dark.

Tip #5: Teach them the Extras, Too

Pumping gas. Yup, that is a driving skill, too. Learning how to pull into the pump, which side of the car the tank is on (do you know about the little arrow on your gas meter), how to pay, how to pump, which gas to chose. All these little details that us adults have been doing for 30 or so years can seem second nature but when teaching your teenager to drive, we need to break it down step by step. Have them read the car manual at night before bed. Not only will it put them right to sleep but it will help them know how to handle the vehicle better. 

What you also need to think about:

  • Meanwhile, during this whole process you also need to find a driver’s education class, log driving hours, and schedule all the supervised driving. And if you have an eager child, then you only have 6 short months to help them complete all these tasks and then sign up to take the driver’s license test.
  • For complete information on driver’s education requirements, visit the NH DMV Driver Licensing Education webpage as well as the applying for a license page. At this point you should just bookmark the DMV website. It’s your home now. 
  • Check with your town’s high school for the driver ed info. Or visit the DMV website for a list of the licensed private driver’s education businesses. 

So here we are, my firstborn is old enough to drive and in a few short months my sweet baby girl will be able to take to the open road without her mom by her side. As with so many things in her life, I hope I will prepare her well enough. I hope that I will teach her the skills that she needs to be successful. I hope I am a good role model for her. (No pressure, right?!?) She is excited for this next step and honestly, so am I!

And in case you read this, my dear sweet Lindsay, just remember the parent’s-mantra “Driving is a privilege. What mama giveth can also be taken away.”

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Hi, I'm Brinn. I am an imperfect mom who strives to do better every day at caring for the people and pets in my life. Together with my husband, 4 daughters and 2 dogs, I live in Exeter (but have lived all over the Seacoast). I've spent the last 20-years working in the Recreation biz and currently manage of the Portsmouth Senior Activity Center and the Portsmouth Holiday Parade. Before Portsmouth, I worked for Rochester Recreation & Arena...Some of your children might have been taught to skate by me! 25 years ago I started my career in Boston at the New England Aquarium and pretty much love all animals. In my free time I volunteer for the Marine Mammal Rescue Team at the Seacoast Science Center as well as kayak and paddle board. Follow me at @brinnieloohoo on Instagram to learn more about my ever so imperfect attempt at life and motherhood.