Say what? Effective in-car communication with your teen.

Bad commentary driving

This mini how-to guide is intended to help you more effectively communicate with your teen during your first few weeks of behind-the-wheel practice.


Don’t engage in distracting conversations.

When your teen is first learning to drive, you need to restrict what you say to commenting about the current driving environment or to give instructions for what you want your teen to do. If your teen makes some sort of driving error, it can be tempting to bombard them with information about why what they just did was wrong. Restrict your instructions to what is necessary to safely navigate through the current situation. Wait until the lesson is over or for a break in the lesson to discuss the matter in more detail.

Don’t make “I’m-really-scared” noises.

Gasping as your teen begins to change lanes or starts to brake at an intersection is not a good idea. It’s distracting, vague, and frustrating for your teen. If you’re worried your teen isn’t braking quickly enough, simply state, “More brake.” It’s quick, effective, and helpful.

Don’t slam your foot on the floor as if you’re trying to brake the car.

Not only will this distract your teen, but it may frustrate them. They may not know why you’re worried or they may feel that you’re not confident in their abilities. If you’d like them to brake, simply say, “Use your brake. You’re approaching this car too quickly.” That will be much more effective and faster-acting than slamming an imaginary brake with your foot.

Don’t block their view of the passenger side mirror.

When your teen is first practicing how to change lanes, it’s a great idea to double-check that the lane they’re moving into is clear of other cars. Communicating this to your teen can help them build confidence. However, don’t block their view of the passenger-side rearview mirror. This will undermine their learning, not to mention that it’s dangerous.


Give driving instructions “location first”.

What this means is that if you want your teen to make a left turn at the next intersection, first tell them where you want their action to take place followed by what action to perform. So, instead of saying “turn left at the next intersection” say, “at the next intersection, please turn left.” Although the difference may not seem significant, it can have a profound difference on the actions your teen takes. If you say, “turn left at the next intersection”, they may act upon the “turn left” immediately. And this could be really bad depending on the driving environment.

Remain calm.

We know that this is easier said than done. But, raising your voice to your teen is not going to help a precarious situation. If your teen does something dangerous with the vehicle, your primary concern is to ensure their safety. Calmly instruct them on how to regain a safe driving environment. Very few people react well when they’re subjected to a scream-storm.

Reward good decision-making.

Everyone, even your teen, appreciates being told “job well done”. While they may not respond to your positive reinforcement with a boisterous “thank you”, rest assured that it won’t go unnoticed.


You know your teen better than anyone else. You know when to push your child and when to back off. Use this knowledge to help teach them one of the most dangerous tasks they’ll ever engage in.


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All information and advice contained within this website is to be taken at your own risk. Nothing contained within this website should be misconstrued as professional driving instruction.