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7 Spiritual Lessons from Teaching Your Teens to Drive

David Sanford

Results may differ, but my two younger children knew how to drive like experts before they earned their learner's permit. No, this didn’t involve them getting behind the wheel of a car prematurely. Instead, it involved intentional show-and-tell in the years leading up to ages 14-16 (varies by state).

Immediately after my youngest son earned his learner’s permit, I took him to our church. There in the parking lot he learned the feel of my car’s steering and braking for 5 minutes. Then I let him drive wherever he wanted. No instructions. No restrictions. And he did great! He didn’t have one mishap and easily passed the written and on-road tests for his driver’s license.

It was even easier with my youngest daughter. Immediately after my youngest daughter earned her learner’s permit, I let her drive wherever she wanted. No practicing steering and braking. No instructions. No restrictions. And she did great! No mishaps for a long time (and then only because that particular car’s brakes suddenly went out).

Again, both of my youngest children skipped driver’s education, had fun with the 12 ways described below, finally jumped behind the wheel of my car, and did great! How incredibly easy, completely safe, and super relaxed compared to my previous experiences trying to teach their older siblings how to drive.

While results may vary, this tried-and-true approach works. But even better?

This approach serves as a wonderful metaphor for our spiritual journey here on earth. Read on to discover the spiritual truths hidden in this faith-building process.

12 Ways to Teach Your Child to Drive

Let’s start with how to teach your child to drive before they earn their learner’s permit.

1. Start when your son or daughter is young… with yourself. Your demeanor behind the wheel says more than you might guess. Making one or two positive changes to your demeanor now will pay big dividends later. Let go of anxiety, fear, anger, and regret. Instead, begin expressing your enjoyment of driving. The more joy you express, the better your child will drive years from now.

2. Teach your child to play Yellow Car with you. The purpose is not just to make car travel more fun, but also to help your child become more aware of who else is on the road. Each of you earns one point for being the first to point toward and call out “yellow car.” Minus one point, however, if you’re wrong or if the “car” turns out to be a school bus, tractor, trailer, or something else. Then again, two points for every truck that’s more than 50 percent solid yellow. Bright yellow or mostly yellow counts. No points for too white, too orange, or gold. The person with the most points wins as soon as you reach your stated destination. 

3. Teach your child to recognize car makes. Encourage your child to recognize your own car’s make and that make’s logo. Congratulate them each time they point toward and call out another car that’s the same make. Later, show them another make and logo. Repeat until they can easily identify anywhere from half a dozen to a dozen makes.

4. Teach your child to recognize car models. If your child has interest and aptitude, consider encouraging them to recognize your car’s model. Congratulate them every time they point toward and call out another car that’s the same model. In our church parking lot, our youngest daughter often pointed toward another white Nissan Altima, saying, “There is the Koivisto’s Altima!” Well before nine years old, she loved pointing out a whole assortment of models driving in front and beside us. It was fun for both her and me.

5. When your child reaches age 12, teach them how to drive a small vehicle in a flat meadow that’s been mowed. My late great uncle Harvey volunteered to do this with each of my five children during the big family picnics he hosted each year. I’ll never know why he did that, let alone how he knew when each of my kids reached age 12. But he had a lot of fun and so did they. Of course, it helped that he owned and kept up a four-acre meadow adjacent to his home.

6. When your child makes a mistake driving the (say) very small tractor in a flat meadow? Assure them it’s okay. Don’t tell them what they did wrong (they know). If they get out of the small vehicle, insist they get back in and keep driving. If they still hesitate, tell them what a good job they have been doing. Then laugh and say, “What? Do you think I’ve never made a mistake driving a real car?”

7. When your child reaches age 13, encourage them to actively learn how to drive by watching you. Ask them to watch you like a hawk. Also, ask them to point out one mistake you make per day—and promise to say, “Thank you!” If they ever point out a mistake and you snap back at them, cool off for 10 seconds, and then sincerely apologize to them. Reiterate your promise and ask them to point out a second mistake “today only.” Do all this and your child won’t need driver’s education or will pass it with flying colors.

8. When your child reaches age 14, point out scratches, scapes, and small dents in your car. Explain that God is always good, but life happens. In most cases, use your comprehensive auto insurance to keep your car well-maintained. Then again, accept scratches, scapes, and very small dents and wear them as badges of honor in front of your child. In other words, don’t sweat the small stuff. Your child is far more important and valuable than even the nicest new car. Make sure they always know that!

9. When your child reaches age 15, teach them that “experience is the best teacher… especially other people’s experiences.” Talk about one of the accidents you’ve caused, what you did wrong, and what you learned. Your child probably will listen intently, tell their sibling or best friend, and always remember the lesson you taught them. Repeat until you’ve covered all of your accidents (or almost all). You’ll help your child become a more careful driver and you’ll both win out.

10. Make sure your child looks forward to earning their learner’s permit the first day possible. As well...

11. Ensure your child looks forward to earning their driver’s license the first day possible. Then, whatever you do, don’t force them to run errands for you right away. Instead, begin by asking, “Would you like to run an errand for me?” or “Would you please run this errand for me?” Later, ask them to run regular (predictable) errands for you. Keep the car keys except for such errands until they fully earn your trust.

12. Help your child save enough to pay for their first car and auto insurance with their own money. If you pay, they’ll be more apt to be careless, even reckless. If they pay, it’s a much different story. And you don’t want them to buy any old car. A well-maintained older car often proves to be a good deal. Any other used car likely is a disaster waiting to happen.

Ideally, steer your child toward buying an old car with low miles driven for years by an elderly grandmother. I did the same when I was 17 years old and again when I was 24. The first was a blue 1967 Plymouth Fury III. The second was a green 1973 Mercury Comet. Both women had good husbands who maintained the cars flawlessly.

While I owned them, each of my first two cars ran exceptionally well for years. Besides routine oil changes, new tires, and new windshield wipers, I spent less than $100 grand total maintaining the two cars. What a dream come true.

Never forget: Steer your child toward buying an old car with low miles driven for years by an elderly grandmother. When the right time comes, ask your church to run a brief announcement saying your child is ready to buy an older car with low miles. See who replies. Often, they just want to make sure you and your child truly appreciate and will baby their car. Assure them on both counts!

So, how does this approach serve as a metaphor for our spiritual journey with God?

7 Spiritual Metaphors for Life’s Journey

First, your demeanor says more than you might guess. Let go of anxiety, fear, anger, and regret. Instead, begin expressing your enjoyment of living God’s ways. The more joy you express, the better your child will love the Lord and live for Him in years to come.

Second, your time in God’s Word will teach you knowledge, insight, understanding, wisdom, and God’s ways. Read the Bible daily. Study it regularly (predictably). Read as many Bible-related articles as possible. Search “Crosswalk.com” and “Christianity.com” (yes, with the quotation marks” and the question you have.

Third, your service for the Lord at your church and in your community will stimulate, strengthen, and stretch your faith in good and profitable ways. My church encourages each teen and adult member to choose only one ministry in the church and one in the community at a time. That seems to be a great balance versus two ministries in the church and none in the community. Every year, decide whether to continue or change your church ministry and your community service. The more you enjoy each, and have some variety, the better.

Fourth, your motto should be “experience is the best teacher… especially other people’s experiences.” Put that motto to work by asking other, older Christians what lessons they have learned over the years. Ask what lessons have surprised them with the most joy. And, ask what important lessons they’ve learned the hard way. The more stories they tell you, the better!

Fifth, your attitude toward your own scratches, scapes, and bruises at this point in life matters. Always value God and His Word much more than those aches and pains and wince-worthy memories, give them over to the Lord, and leave them with Him.

Sixth, your attitude toward life’s most awful experiences also matters. Thank God for His marvelous, amazing mercy and grace. Thank Him as well for His forgiveness, comfort, solace, encouragement, strength, joy and peace.

Seventh, your demeanor will tell you how best to start each day. Are you joyful? Are you struggling? Either way, ask God for His strength today. Thank Him for making you His child forever. Praise Him for His greatness, goodness, and guidance in your life.

Then get behind the wheels of your car, so to speak, and make the most of this day.

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash


headshot of David Sanford new 2020 David Sanford’s book and Bible projects have been published by Zondervan, Tyndale, Thomas Nelson, Doubleday, Barbour, and Amazon. His newest book is Life Map Devotional for Men published concurrently with his wife Renee’s new book, Life Map Devotional for Women.