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Daddy Take the Wheel – Adventures With a 15-yr. Old Driver

Carrie Underwood once famously sang, “Jesus take the wheel – cause I can’t do this on my own.” Recently I’ve gained a new appreciation for her imagery because my 15-year old was issued her learner’s permit. Yes, I can’t believe it…she is learning how to drive. Wasn’t she just in diapers doing her best Fred Flintstone, foot-power imitation in her Little Tikes mobile?

little tikes 2She’s never been behind the wheel of a car before. We don’t live on a farm or have a big yard so she never grew up driving a tractor or lawn mower. The closest she has been to operating a motorized vehicle are go-carts at amusement parks. And of course, those are small and regulated for speed.

Needless to say we are having some fun adventures. I’ve acted like Jesus several times – reaching over to take the wheel to correct a mistake. I’ve had to save a few mailboxes in our subdivision from being clipped by the passenger side, rear view mirror. And there was that one wide turn in our school parking lot that had us headed straight for the second grade classroom. (Shhh…don’t tell the principal.) That was a forceful take the wheel correction.

But she’s learning and getting better each time out.

Funny thing is, I’m re-learning something also that I forget from time to time.

Take the Wheel but Learn to Let Go

I’m convinced all kids want their parents to take the wheel. Kids want structure. They want things to make sense. They want there to be boundaries and rules and standards to follow.

They’ll never admit this, especially in the teen years. Teens project an image of toughness – like they don’t need anyone and can handle things on their own. Believe me, having worked with teens all my adult life, it’s a façade. Deep down – if being truly honest – they still want (and need) adults to take the wheel and provide guidance for their life.

Parents who take a hands off the wheel approach are doing their kids a disservice. Many modern theories of psychology promote this style of free-range parenting – that you should let your child do things on their own. Let them develop without being involved so they will become independent adults, so the theory goes.

It’s in exact contrast to the helicopter parenting style where adults hover over every little action a child does. These parents are mainly driven by fear and anxiety that something awful will happen to their child. So they don’t let them out of their sight and are loaded with phrases like, “Be careful…”, “Watch out…”, “That’s dangerous…” and “Wait for me…[to be there].”

What I’m relearning through my daughter’s driving experience is that parents have to take the wheel and provide direction. If I hadn’t, we’d have some damage to repair, both physical and emotional. And the emotional damage would most likely take longer. My daughter is still a bit nervous behind the wheel. Think how that would be exaggerated had she hit something.

But the other side of this equation is that I can’t have my hands on the wheel continuously. I can’t reach over in an attempt to correct every minor infraction. I can’t put my hands on the wheel every time a car is nearby or verbally coach her on every inch of road. If I do, how will she learn?

In order to be a good driver, she eventually has to figure this out for herself. I’ve had to resist reaching for the wheel in situations that didn’t matter but were making me nervous. So we’ve hit a curb once and ran through some low hanging tree branches she could have avoided. Not pleasant by any means but a good learning experience for her.

I’ll always be there to take the wheel for my kids. The last thing I want is for them to run into disaster because I wasn’t involved, wasn’t teaching or wasn’t directing. I’ve got a lot of wisdom to share and years of experience to back it up. It’d be inexcusable for me not to impart that to them.

But being an effective parent is also learning how to let go. And I’ll tell you that’s not easy – I think more so for dads and especially towards girls.

My goal is to teach, train and guide my kids so they can become adults who make wise decisions. If that takes hitting a few curbs along the way, I’m OK with that. But I’ll always be ready to take the wheel when the situation calls for it. I’ve seen too many train wrecks because of parents who didn’t.

Questions for Discussion: Did you have any fun adventures when you were learning how to drive? What was the worst thing that happened? Did your parent ever have to take the wheel to avoid hitting something? What was your parents parenting style and was it effective? Are you more protective or less protective as a parent? What scares you as a parent in today’s world?

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  1. The outing with children is also an opportunity to teach only what is necessary.

  2. My parents taught me how to drive. Before I fully learned how to do it, it took me some time and courage as well as I got advice from them. I was always reminded about these two “Master the Lane Change” and “Be Consistent with Braking and Accelerating.”

    • “…Be Consistent with Braking and Accelerating…” YES! This is the one I’m really trying to drive home with my daughter. It’s amazing how many people are so herky-jerky because they accelerate/decelerate to quickly. Gives me a headache riding with people like that.

  3. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank says

    I always take the time to guide and give advice to my kids because it is really important that they are guided and get whatever they need, benefiting them the most. I believe when they feel guided, they’d learn fast and commit less mistakes.

  4. I am more protective because this generation kinda have more freedom or is more liberated and of the technology and the internet, so we may not know what information they’re getting when we’re not around them.

    • I agree 100% about monitoring their use of technology and the internet. Both of those are changing what children experience and it’s definitely not all good.

  5. Good stuff, Brian. I don’t have kids but would like to (in 5+ years preferably…) so it’s fun to read stories of others working through parenting issues. I am worried that I will be a helicopter parent and try to control (protect?) my children. I know that failures and hitting bumps are necessary, but I already know it will be so hard for me to just stand back and let my kids make mistakes. Hopefully by recognizing this before I even have kids I’ll be able to be a better parent when I do have kids.

    • I was definitely more of a helicopter for our first. Then it started to lessen with each successive child. It takes so much energy to be that type of parent and you just can’t physically be there with them every moment. You’d get nothing else done.

  6. I’m not a parent, but I imagine one of the toughest things is knowing where to draw that line in the sand. When to let them fall, or when to be there to make sure they don’t..btw, I won’t tell you the crazy things I did with the car when I got my license. And I was the good kid! lol!

    • “…the crazy things I did with the car when I got my license.” Haha…I’m sure glad my parents didn’t know what some of my friends were doing when I rode with them. I’d never been allowed to go with anyone.

  7. Oh my goodness Brian! My 16 year just got her license 3 days ago and she is now driving to school and home only. Needless to say we are nervous wrecks! I know she has to learn but there’s a part of me that wants to be in the car with her at all times. I feel confident with her driving but there are still so many scenarios she doesn’t know how to handle just yet. I may be scared because when I was 16 I caused a fender bender. This is where our faith will have to kick in, we can’t follow her around like the paparazzi, we’ll just have to put her safety in the Lord’s hands. Trust me I would love to “take the wheel ” if I thought it would protect and not hinder her from developing as a young lady. This article is very timely.

  8. You’re analogy of taking the wheel but also letting go is right on and it applies to all ages. My kids are young (6 and 4) and even at the park the other day, I watched my six year old climb to the top of this giant metal pole, he was at least eight feet off the ground. It took every cell in my body to resist the urge to tell him to be careful or to tell him not to go so high. I just kept imagining him falling off and breaking something, but I also knew that he needed to know that he could do it. And he did. I smiled and cheered him on, and he made it just fine. As much as they need us to take the wheel, they also need to know that we believe in them. It’s definitely a balance to know which time is which!

    • “It took every cell in my body to resist the urge…” Haha…I know exactly how you feel. And I’m guessing your cheering him on went a long way to build his confidence.

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