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Ask The Expert: Do Teens Care About GDL and Teen Driving Laws?

Dear Your Teen:

My son just told me that he went out to lunch with some friends (between finals). My son is a freshman; his friend is a sophomore. Graduated Driving Laws prohibit this new driver from driving more than one friend, right? I told my son that I am not comfortable with this. He responded with, “I shouldn’t have told you.” What’s the right conversation to have? These laws exist for a reason.

EXPERT | Jennifer Powell-Lunder, Psy.D.

Graduated Driving Laws (GDL) are tricky because they vary from state to state. Before you address this issue with your teen, make sure that you understand your state law.

What can be even trickier, though? How you start the conversation. Timing is important, and ideally, it’s best to talk about GDL before your teen enters high school. We live and learn, right?

Having the Talk about GDL with a Teenager:

1. Find out what he already knows.

In your situation, start by asking what he knows about GDL; when you do, listen and avoid interrupting. After he gives you facts, ask him if he knows why GDL exists. Your tone of voice is important. This should be a real question not a stern confrontation.

2. Start with the facts.

If he can explain that GDL is based on real research, he gets a gold star. If he is unsure, share some information. You don’t want to bore him with a lecture on the car crash statistics, so just let him know the basic facts that will help him make wise choices, like how teen driving accidents are more likely to happen when there is more than one teen in the car.

3. Resect his efforts.

Once you get the facts out of the way, thank your son for being honest and sharing the information with you. Explain that your number one priority as a parent is to ensure his safety. Validate his statement that it may be true that if he did not share this information with you, you would not be aware of the situation. Emphasize that you appreciate that your relationship with him is built on trust. Let him know that you can’t always be there to monitor his actions, but you expect him to avoid taking rides from drivers who are not fully licensed.

4. Outline the consequences.

Now you and your son need to address consequences if he does not follow teen driving rules. Brainstorm some possible outcomes. (Be prepared with some of your own suggestions.) Clearly state that these consequences take immediate effect. Also, discuss that if he can’t follow the laws as a passenger, you have concerns about his ability to follow the laws as a driver. Make it clear that his behavior now could affect whether you will permit him to get his GDL license in the future.

I realize this may not be an easy conversation to have; however, isn’t that what parenting is sometimes about? After all, isn’t it better that he is safe and unhappy or annoyed with you than he is unsafe and you are sorry!


Click here to read Your Teen’s book review of Teenage as a Second Language.

Jennifer Powell-Lunder

Jennifer Powell-Lunder, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist, author of Teenage as a Second Language and creator of ItsATweensLife.com.