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Teach Your Teen to Drive and Get Their License

Updated on June 25, 2020
Justine Forelli profile image

Justine is a writing teacher, editing student, mother and mountain bike rider.

The Long Road

I started this article in February 2020 full of optimism and courage about giving you tips for teaching your teen to drive and helping them to get their license in a timely manner. It had been no easy feat for us to get this far but we had it - a confirmed appointment for my daughter's behind the wheel test! Yes the appointment was almost 5 months after her 16th birthday and yes we were going to have to drive several counties away but she had a confirmed appointment! I scheduled my PTO from work and we talked daily about her test and what a great summer she had in front of her: Sweet 16 and a License to Drive!

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Then Everything Changed

At first sheltering in place sounded fun. Two weeks off from school, then a week of spring break, and then back to normal...But normal never returned. Our spring break trip to Maui was canceled and the kids never went back to school. However, we still had our confirmed DMV appointment. My daughter, isolated from her friends, staying up till 3 AM every night and getting up at 2 PM everyday still had hope. Every so often I would type in her name and phone number on the website, and sure enough, confirmed appointment for April 20, 2020.


DMV Issues Ominous Warnings

"To safeguard the health of employees and customers, the DMV temporarily closed all public offices March 27." I continued to check the appointment system and her confirmed appointment was still there. What a relief. And then there was some good news: "the DMV is reopening select offices..." But there was also disturbing news: "Behind-the-wheel drive tests continue to be suspended." However, her appointment was still showing up in the system. Do we believe the DMV when it says "All appointments have been canceled and No new appointments can be scheduled at this time." Should I cancel my PTO? Or is there a slim chance that she really does still have an appointment because it is still in the system?

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DMV Goes Silent

Finally, the day before her test we decided there is no way she actually has an appointment, so we stayed home. I continued to go online to look at her confirmed appointment and then one day it was gone. I typed her name in. No appointments found. There was no way to reach a live person to ask questions. At least I still had my print out with the QR code on it as proof she really did once have an appointment.

Learn-by-doing

All my life my parenting philosophy has been guided by the words "learn-by-doing". When my children were toddlers, I bravely gave them little cutting boards and sharp knives so they could learn how to chop carrots and help me in the kitchen. I encouraged them to mix with their hands and get messy. When I took them to the park, I encouraged them to climb trees, build forts and roll down hills. When they were a little older, I pushed them out of the house and said go explore the neighborhood and find a creek or a hidden nature area. It wasn't always easy but I knew that people learn by doing and that band-aids and TLC makes it all better.

The Eager Teen Driver

When my daughter said, "make me an appointment for the written test and sign me up for a driver training class", I was proud I had raised an independent teen who was eager to take on the next phase in life. She had done all the research and had signed up for the online course. All I had to do was to pay for it. She also told me to hurry up and to schedule her written test because it takes months to get an appointment. She was right! Before COVID-19, the earliest appointments available were 3 months out. So even with a teen eager to get a license, you are already behind schedule right from the beginning. I would recommend you just skip making an appointment entirely and find a DMV that takes walk-ins; however, post COVID-19, I wonder if that will still be possible.

Must Bring Documents to Written Test*

Checkbook

Birth Certificate

Proof of residency

Proof of enrollment in a 6-hours Behind-the-Wheel Driver Training

Face Mask

*check and recheck on the website that you have everything

The Reluctant Teen Driver

Not all teens are eager to get their license. I was curious as to why so I asked a few teens why they were not trying to get their driver licenses.

"I don't need one. I can just get rides from people," said one teen I talked to.

A mother I talked to said, "I would prefer to give him rides or pay for his Ubers. It's too stressful imagining him out there driving, possibly after drinking."

You Want to What?

Although I was proud that my philosophy of learn-by-doing had resulted in my teen becoming independent and doing all the legwork to make sure she could learn to drive, it was very difficult for me to hand her the keys to my car and say "Here honey, you can do it!" Sitting in the passenger seat in my new car while my daughter says to me "which one is the brake?" almost caused me to throw up from anxiety and fear. This was not the same as watching her tiny hands holding a paring knife as she bravely pushed down on top of the carrot. This was the first time my parenting philosophy of learn-by-doing had been truly tested.

Would you rather have a teen eager to get their license or reluctant?

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You will need a calming mantra when your child says:

"Mom, which one is the brake?"

"Sorry! I thought I was in reverse."

"I think I'm a natural at driving."

The DMV Website: Teen Drivers

Whether you have an eager teen driver who does all the legwork or a reluctant teen driver that needs you to do the research, my words of advice are read and re-read the section on the DMV website called "Teen Drivers". I made the mistake of just listening to my daughter and doing what she asked me to do; namely making appointments and paying for her Driver's Education online class and her 6-hour Driver's Training class.

We have all had DMV horror stories through no fault of our own. Don't add to this by not bringing all the necessary documents and being turned away after your 3 month wait for the appointment. You can find it all spelled out clearly on the website. Getting the permit is the part that requires the most steps and documents. Make sure to bring your checkbook because not all DMVs take credit cards. You also need to have an original birth certificate. Like I said, you can find all the info on the website, including this very important tip under Parental Concerns: "Does my teen know I can cancel their license at any time and for any reason? Does my teen know I will cancel the license if they drive irresponsibly or violate traffic laws?"

Must Bring Documents to Behind-the-Wheel Test*

Valid permit

Proof of Insurance on the Vehicle

Current Registration

Certificate of Completion of Behind-The-Wheel Training

A Vehicle with no maintenance lights on the dashboard

Face mask

Adult

*check and recheck on the website that you have everything

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The Winding Road

Today I received a text message from the DMV. My daughter's appointment has finally been rescheduled! All previously scheduled appointments that were canceled are now automatically being rescheduled beginning on June 26. After those are completed, they will open up the system for new appointments. Again, I don't know if walk-ins will be possible in this brave new world.

As soon as I got the text, I asked for a day off from work in order to complete this mother-daughter journey that started almost a year and a half ago. If my daughter passes on her first attempt, she will receive her license at age 16 and 7 months. Not bad! Before COVID-19, after COVID-19, the message is the same: expect delays and frustrations as you navigate the many steps of obtaining your license with the CA DMV. Also expect fear and anxiety every time your child takes your keys. This fear begins to subside as both you and your teen get more comfortable with their driving, only to increase again as they now drive your car away without you.

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    • profile image

      Dineen Seymour Nahn 

      7 days ago

      I remember the stress a few years ago WITHOUT Covid. I can’t even imagine the frustration WITH Covid. A very well written article both intellectually and emotionally! Thanks for the advice and perspective!

      I recommend reading the other articles by Justine Forelli.

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