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How Early is too Early to Learn to Drive as a Teenager?

honda pilotOne of the hardest things for a parent to do is to let their child go. And it’s not just going off to school or leaving the house after high school graduation. Once kids hit their teenage years they start to grow apart from their parents. They’re unsure of what’s ahead but they want to experience it now, and they don’t want their parents holding their hand. This is very true when it comes to gaining their freedom from home. Rather than going to the mall with mom or dad, they want to be dropped off to chill with friends. They would rather hang out in the parking lot or camp in the woods or go to the movies. And all of this independence begins with driving.

But how do you know if your child is actually ready to learn to drive? Honestly, that question is different for everyone because everyone’s child is different. As a parent, it’s important to gauge your child’s maturity level. You can look at things like how they handle their schoolwork or chores around the house. If they are reliable at age 13 and listen to you (as well as a 13-year-old can) then it will help them to be more comfortable in the car if you start now. However, if everything is a joke to them, they may not be able to appreciate the significance of such a responsibility.

The main thing your child should understand is that they will be responsible for a vehicle that could potentially hurt themselves or others. Many times young teenagers are only aware of themselves, and that kind of egocentric thinking can cause problems. At age 13 their minds and bodies are going through radical changes, which makes it difficult for them to focus on anything else. This might be too early an age to begin driving lessons, but you can help your teen to familiarize themselves with the inner workings of the car.

As your teenager gets older, they will gain experience and realize there is more in the world than just themselves. They will learn better study techniques and hear about standardized tests that have a real impact on their future. They will look around at their environment to determine if they want to stay where they are or move somewhere else when they get older. And they may get their first job at 16 or 17, which will teach them about managing a schedule and their course load. This is when they will really understand what it means to be independent.

While your brain is still going through changes into your 20s, you generally gain more maturity when you are 18 or 19 rather than at ages 13 and 14. And even those kids who experience more at a younger age may not have the ability to process it in a mature way. Parents want to help their kids every step of the way, but at some point you can’t any more. Thankfully today many cars come with added features for safety and easier handling. They have cameras everywhere that even adults are grateful for, never mind teenagers who are still honing their instincts. Ask your local dealer which new car models have these kinds of options.

Some kids will insist they are ready to learn to drive before age 16, and that may be true in some sense. They may be able to handle steering and braking quickly, or backing up slowly, or even parallel parking. And with you in the car it’s perfectly fine to let them practice these techniques in an empty parking lot. But until they can fully comprehend the major responsibility of commanding a machine with the potential to hurt someone else, it’s best to wait until they are at least 16. They may tell you they understand, but they tell you a lot of other things too. How reliable are they? It’s often tough to say.