Tales from the Passenger Seat: 3 Lessons I Learned Teaching My 15 Year Old How to Drive

I still can’t believe I’m at this point in my life.

It still feels like yesterday that I became a father for the first time. Standing over Carter as the nurses were cleaning him up. But it wasn’t. It was 15 years ago. Actually, it was 15 years, three months and 25 days. And now, I find myself sitting in the passenger seat helping him drive… and not just drive… but drive safely. 

I mean, pretty much anyone his age and older can drive. They can push the gas pedal and move the steering wheel. But can they drive safely? That’s the question. We’ve all been in a vehicle with someone wondering when they were going to kill everyone… everyone in the car, in other cars, on sidewalks. We’ve all been in situations where as soon as we got out of the vehicle safely we thanked the Lord the ride was done. You’re currently thinking of that person right now. I know I am.

And so now, at this time in my life, I’m willingly getting into the passenger’s seat and teaching my 15 year old how to navigate the streets behind the wheel safely. We started on the neighborhood streets. Skipped right over the parking lot. If I’m gonna teach him how to drive, I’m gonna go a little bigger at the start. I mean, my enneagram number is seven, it’s what we sevens do, right. We’re positive, confident, enthusiastic and, well, adventurous. So skipping the parking lot and diving straight to our neighborhood streets is, well, quite fitting. And it was fine, he didn’t bounce off of any cars and did a great job. I was super impressed with how he handled things. 

As we drove together more, I thought I’d be doing all the teaching. But I’ve learned a few things as the drivers training has progressed. And so, I wanted to share a few of the things I’ve learned while teaching my 15 year old how to drive:

  1. Asking questions is better than giving him the answers. During our time driving together, he eventually asks questions like, “Is this close enough to the stop sign?” And to this question I’m tempted to give him the answer – to tell him what I think based upon my experience. And I suppose that’s ok. But I won’t be in the passenger seat next to him every time he drives. At some point, he’ll be behind the wheel by himself and I want him to feel confident to think for himself. So instead of saying yes or no to this question, I ask him, “Can you see traffic coming from your left and right?” And if he answers no then my question back to him is, “What do you think you need to do to see better?” And without saying a word, he creeps up closer. And then it hit me, this is true in life as well. He’s 15. Morgan is 13. I’m a pretty Type A personality. Pretty intense. I have no problem giving answers. But, just like with Carter and driving, there will be a time where I won’t be in the passenger seat with them in life. My job as a parent has reached a point where it’s not just my job to give them answers. It’s now my job to help them come up with the right answers themselves so that when I’m not there to help them navigate life, they’ll be able to make the right and good decisions. It’s a shift in thinking. It’s a shift in parenting.
  2. He’s gonna hit things that he doesn’t know to look out for. After a few days of driving Carter was doing well. He was driving along, demonstrating good awareness. Focusing on what he should be focusing on. And during this time, as you would suspect, I’m riding in the passenger seat but my focus is still on heightened alert like I was driving. So as we’re moving along, I’m scanning the oncoming traffic, checking my passenger mirror and monitoring who’s behind us… and… monitoring the actual road we’re driving on. Then, quite literally out of nowhere a huge pothole pops up. I see it, and as a driver I would have been able to navigate around it. But Carter didn’t see it. So like any sane father would do, I started saying, “Hole, hole, hole, HOLE.” Getting progressively louder on each “hole” that comes out of my mouth. And, on the fourth “hole” I try to grab the wheel to swerve to the right. But, because this was all happening all so fast, Carter grabbed the wheel tighter and didn’t let me pull the wheel to the right… and boom. Tire meets hole. It turned out to be ok. It was a deep pothole, but luckily didn’t do any damage. I said a couple of choice words. We pulled into a church parking lot to turn around and take a pause so I could explain what else Carter should be scanning. Us hitting the pothole wasn’t Carter’s fault. What he was focusing on was right and good. But he wasn’t aware of the potholes that are sure to come. Potholes that literally pop up out of nowhere. To him, prior to this pothole, the street was supposed to be smooth. Not potentially hazardous. He simply didn’t know that there can be and will mostly likely be potholes right where he will be driving. It was my job to teach him about the potholes that could lie ahead on the street. To be scanning for those as well and how to navigate around them. And that’s true with life as well. There will be potholes that will pop up. And he’ll need to be aware of those and look for a way to navigate around them. In the car, you have a steering wheel to get around them. In life, in my opinion, the steering wheel that will help navigate around life’s potholes is the Word of God… the Bible – Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” – Psalm 119: 105. As we were pulling out of the parking lot to make our way back onto the road, Carter said to me, “I didn’t know why you were grabbing the wheel, so I was like, I just held tight and wouldn’t let you turn it because I didn’t know what you were doing.” Hahahahahaha… good instincts… never let a crazy person who’s yelling grab the wheel.
  3. Checking your mirrors before a lane change is always a good idea. Prior to driving and as we were driving in and around the neighborhood I was giving Carter advice on how to change lanes… what I do. One thing I’ve realized is that the decisions for this type of thing are really made a split second apart from each other… Here’s how it goes for me… “I need to change lanes. Check rearview mirror. Check side mirror. Look over my shoulder. Turn on turn signal. Check side mirror. Look over my shoulder. Go.” It happens almost simultaneously. And so I explained this to Carter. A couple of times. And so, I was like, “Ok, let’s get some experience.” We get out on SR 23 and I tell him I need him to change lanes. And boom. Not boom in a bad way. Calm down. Boom… like boom, he did it perfectly. The next day, we go out again. Same road. Same thing. I tell him I need him to change lanes. He says ok. And this time I find myself moving from the left lane into the right lane… no checking mirrors, no looking over his shoulder. He essentially changed lanes blind. Now, I’m not that stupid. I made sure that there weren’t any cars around us prior to telling him I needed to change lanes. I did know that a car was a ways back in the right lane and figured he wouldn’t check his mirrors prior to changing lanes. So it was a good lesson, because after he changed lanes, I had him look in his rearview mirror. And I asked him, in a rather straightforward and stern manner what would have happened if that car was beside him when he changed lanes. He got the point. The same holds true for life. There will be times where we’ll have a decision to make. And that decision will likely be a change of lanes. It’s not a good idea to simply change lanes. You want to check your mirrors. Ask questions. Do some research on what that lane change means. Make sure to the best of your ability that the lane change won’t lead to a devastating outcome. Talk to people. Seek counsel. Use your mirrors. That’s what they’re there for.

I’ve loved teaching Carter how to drive. It’s been an eye opening experience. And I’ll love continuing to teach him. He’s done a great job so far. I just can’t believe that we’re already here, but I wouldn’t trade this time in for the world. There really isn’t a better, more important job on the planet than helping a child, yours or otherwise, learn how to navigate life and grow as a human being. It’s not easy. But anything great isn’t.