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How To Teach A Scared Teenager To Drive

7 Easy Steps How To Teach A Scared Teenager To Drive

Parenting brings numerous milestones, doesn’t it? Teaching your kid(s) to drive ranks among the top, along with their first steps and sending them off to college. Isn’t it scary when your child starts preparing for their driver’s license? Parents and teens share this fear, and for good reasons.

Did you know teen drivers are involved in more accidents than adult drivers? One reason may be that their brains aren’t fully developed, leading to risk-taking. Also, variable road conditions and the occasional difficulty in adhering to speed limits by even experienced drivers make it scarier. Let’s not forget the nail-biting act of parallel parking, which can often increase driving anxiety.

But, who’s ready for the hard truth? Eventually, your teen must learn how to drive, and you must guide them. Have you noticed a trend that fewer teens look forward to learning to drive? A rising number confess they don’t want their license yet, or aren’t ready to start driving. But is this reluctance simply due to fear? The prospect of learning to drive can indeed be terrifying.

Anxiety around driving is a reality, transforming every lesson into a crash course in stress management. Have you considered driving courses like Driver’s Ed, and in particular, a Defensive Driving Course? These can greatly help your teen overcome driving anxiety. However, it’s crucial to remember most teens learn from family members.

So, as a parent, how do you handle a teenager who’s scared to drive? Let’s explore key strategies for teaching teens to drive, and share tips to ensure they conquer any driving fears.

TLDR: How to teach a scared teenager to drive in seven steps:

  1. Ask questions to understand their fear.
  2. Slowly increase their familiarity with the skills of safe driving.
  3. Model safe driving behavior for them when they are in the car with you.
  4. Help decrease anxiety with reinforcement, practice, and positively rewarding small milestones.
  5. Mitigate stress and work through low-stakes driving environments first.
  6. Work with a driving school.
  7. Consider getting specialized help as needed.

Let’s take a closer look at each step, and how you can use them in each teen driving lesson.

1. Ask Questions To Understand Their Fear

Before you even broach teaching your teen how to drive, you may want to reflect on your teen’s approach to tackling new things. You know your kid best: How do they handle new situations? Let that knowledge inform this new situation. And remember: It was probably scary to you when you learned as a teen how to drive, too!

And if your teen driver expresses fear or hesitation, gently ask follow-up questions to better understand that fear. What is about being a teen driver that scares them?

One note of caution here: If your teen driver seems to have a seriously debilitating phobia when it comes to driving, consider consulting a mental health professional who specializes in phobias.

Otherwise, though, teenage drivers’ fears can stem from past trauma, witnessing an accident, or a simple fear of the unknown. Driving is a lot of responsibility, and that can be scary, too; there are very real risks involved when teen drivers are behind the wheel.

One way to address those risks is to talk through those risks; an anxious driver is also sometimes a more careful driver, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As you teach your teen how to drive, you can work with your teen driver in focusing on the “eight danger zones” identified by the CDC:

  1. Driver inexperience
  2. Driving with teen passengers
  3. Nighttime driving
  4. Not using seat belts
  5. Distracted driving
  6. Drowsy driving
  7. Reckless driving
  8. Impaired driving

The next step can help work your teen driver through those danger zones and decrease their anxiety, as well.

Related Content: 27 Positive Facts About Teen Driving

2. Slowly Increase Their Familiarity With The Skills Of Safe Driving

In addition to talking through your teen drivers’ fears, showing your child how you mitigate those fears in your own driving by practicing safe driving skills can help lessen their anxiety as well. By taking small steps and talking through each of those risk-mitigating behaviors, you can help make driving less scary for your teen.

Other strategies you can help model for them:

  • Visualization. Talking your teen through a sequence of safe driving behavior can help reduce anxiety and put them at ease: Have them visualize each step from taking the keys in their hand to the visual walk-through of the car and even the turn-by-turn directions of a common route, such as to school or the grocery store, including slowly introducing potential hazards they might encounter and reminders of how to practice safe driving behaviors.
  • Attentive driving. If your teen is used to being a distracted passenger (whether on the phone or in a book or talking with friends), start slowly asking them to be more attentive when they’re in the car with you. Ask them for their help in watching for hazards, and note hazards they might not immediately notice.

3. Model Safe Driving Behavior For Them When They Are In A The Car With You

In addition to having them practice being attentive passengers, you can talk them through other safe driving behaviors as you engage in them, including such things you might otherwise not even think about:

  • Looking left-right-left at intersections;
  • Signaling well in advance;
  • Keeping your hands at 10 and 2;
  • Doing a visual check before driving;
  • Keeping a safe distance from other vehicles;
  • Watching for pedestrians;
  • And any other driving behaviors you may not otherwise even think about!

4. Help Decrease Anxiety With Reinforcement, Practice, And Positively Rewarding Small Milestones

In addition to modeling behavior, you can have them practice those behaviors while you are driving or when you are helping them practice their safe driving skills. Reinforce behaviors with praise and gentle reminders, positively rewarding small milestones (such as noting all of the possible hazards in a ten-block stretch, then working up to longer distances).

Driving simulations can also help; many teen driver education companies offer 3D simulations as part of their driver education classes, and some of those may be available even outside of driver education courses. Simulations can help improve response time, hazard recognition, and safe driver habits.

5. Mitigate Stress And Work Through Low-Stakes Driving Environments First

Starting in a low-stakes driving environment, like a deserted parking lot, can be a terrific way to introduce your teen to safe driving. Why not use cones to practice parallel parking and other maneuvers? This approach, in a low-risk setting, can lessen anxiety and bolster skills. Driving can be stressful, can’t it? However, you have the power to make it less daunting.

Do you see the benefit of an empty parking lot? It’s a wonderful place for your teen to use their learner’s permit. It’s free from most hazards, like other vehicles and pedestrians. And guess what? There are no observers around, so your teen can focus on driving rather than worrying about what others might think. Let’s check out into some skills to practice in an empty parking lot:

  • A visual walk-through of the car exterior, checking tire pressure, mirror positioning, and clear windows.
  • Adjusting the seat, mirrors, steering wheel, and seat belt to fit the driver.
  • Understanding the functions of controls, dials, and buttons.
  • Practicing controlled three-point turns, parallel parking, and other spatial recognition drills.

All these exercises can help your teen understand how the car maneuvers and handles at slow speeds before progressing to higher speeds. Additionally, they provide a clear understanding of stopping distances at different speeds.

Can these measures lessen your teen’s fear of driving? Absolutely! They’ll gradually become more comfortable behind the wheel.

Have you considered introducing relaxation techniques before and after driving? Deep breathing, meditation, and even yoga can alleviate stress and anxiety surrounding learning to drive.

Embrace mistakes; they’re part of the process. Reassuring your teen that it’s okay to make errors in a low-pressure environment can reduce anxiety. After all, isn’t it better to hit a cone while mastering parallel parking than to risk another vehicle?

6. Work With A Driving School

Working with a driving school can also help; while you know what works for you as a driver, and know your child, professionals in teen driver education programs have often worked with hundreds if not thousands of drivers and often have far more strategies at their disposal.

Additionally, sometimes working with a stranger may be easier for your child, as they may not feel the same pressure to perform that they may feel with a parent. This is especially true if they can pick up on your nerves and anxiety when you’re helping teach them how to drive; an objective outsider isn’t going to have that same emotional attachment and may be better able to guide your teen objectively and calmly, for instance.

7. Consider Getting Specialized Help As Needed

Finally, some teens may need more specialized help if phobias or other anxieties are playing an oversized role in their fear of driving. This may be especially true, too, if there’s past trauma such as an accident that is playing a role in their anxiety and fear; a professional therapist can help them work through that trauma.

Teaching a teen to drive requires patience and communication, and that’s especially true if your teen is scared. Remember, too, that every child develops on a different timeline, and know that your child may just need more time to mature before they are emotionally ready for driving.

Is Driving Anxiety Common (For Parents)?

Parents often get anxious thinking about their teens driving behaviors because there is no denying that the main cause of premature death among young people is vehicle-related car crashes. Unfortunately, with novice driving skills, increased distractions from cellular phones or friends, and an increased likelihood to engage in dangerous driving habits due to peer pressure, teen drivers have the odds stacked against them. So what are parents doing to make sure teens are building safe driving habits? The answer is GPS tracking

GPS car tracker

  • Get Speed Alerts To Notify You Of Bad Driving 
  • Observe Driving Techniques From Your Cell Phones
  • Discover Where Your Teen Is Really Going


Parents who use GPS tracking systems are presented with a unique and more modern avenue to observe their teen activity. This is due to the devices providing data such as every address a teen went to, what speeds a teen was driving their car, and a vast number of other information based on driving behaviors. With this real-time information, parents have the ability to determine if a teen is building harmful driving habits such as speeding or going to places that could be dangerous. Having this information can be the gateway to opening dialogue between parents and teens, resulting in serious discussions about the consequences of driving. GPS tracking systems give parents the real-time data necessary to find out what their teen is doing while in a car and that information is critical to understanding teen driving behavior. Knowing your teen is essentially misbehaving while behind the wheel can not only establish long-term problematic driving behaviors but can also be an indication that the teen might be dealing with other issues. When parents have the knowledge they have the ability to intervene and that can end in the best results.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can I Help My Teen Overcome Driving Anxiety?

Patience and understanding are key. Start with the basics, like understanding car maintenance and the rules of the road. Practice driving in low-traffic areas to build their confidence and eliminate any fears of driving. Positive reinforcement also goes a long way in helping your teen feel more comfortable behind the wheel.

What Role Does Insurance Play In Teaching My Teen To Drive?

Car insurance for teens is crucial. As a parent, you should research insurance quotes from various car insurance companies to find the best rates for your teenager. Some insurance companies even offer special programs, like teen safe driving discounts, to promote responsible driving habits.

How Can I Make Sure My Teen Is Prepared For Their Driving Test?

Consistent driving instruction and practice are essential. Utilize a driving instructor or take an active role in your teen’s driving experience. Make sure they’re familiar with traffic safety rules, highway safety guidelines, and common driving scenarios they may encounter during the test.

What Financial Aspects Should I Consider When Teaching My Teen To Drive?

Car insurance rates for teens tend to be higher due to their lack of driving experience. Additionally, consider costs related to driving lessons, potential auto loans for a car, and any impact on your homeowners or renters’ insurance policy.

Joy Nguyen
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