7 Easy Steps How To Teach A Scared Teenager To Drive
When it comes to big parenting milestones, teaching your kid(s) to drive is one of the biggest—right up there with first steps and sending them off to college. And your child getting their own driver’s license is one of the scariest milestones, too—for parents and teens alike. There are plenty of good reasons to be afraid: Teen drivers are in far more accidents than adult drivers, for instance, and given that their brains may not yet be fully developed when they get behind the steering wheels, are typically more prone to risk-taking, as well. Road conditions are variable, speed limits aren’t always followed even by the most experienced of drivers, and parallel parking can lead to increased driving anxiety, and even driving phobia.
But let’s be real: Eventually, your teen has to learn how to drive—and you need to be there to help them through it, even as a growing number of teens don’t look forward to learning to drive. More and more teens say they don’t want to get their driver’s license, or that they aren’t quite ready to start driving. Often, though, that’s because they’re afraid. Learning to drive can be scary for them, too. Driving anxiety is real, and can make any driving lesson a bonus course in stress management. Driving courses like Driver’s Ed, especially when they include a Defensive Driving Course, are great for helping your teenager overcome any anxiety about driving, but most teens learn how to drive from their family members.
So what do you as a parent do when your teenager is scared to drive? Let’s look at some key strategies at how to teach teens to drive, tips to ensure teen drivers overcome any fears of driving.
How to teach a scared teenager to drive in seven steps:
- Ask questions to understand their fear.
- Slowly increase their familiarity with the skills of safe driving.
- Model safe driving behavior for them when they are in the car with you.
- Help decrease anxiety with reinforcement, practice, and positively rewarding small milestones.
- Mitigate stress and work through low-stakes driving environments first.
- Work with a driving school.
- 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:
- Driver inexperience
- Driving with teen passengers
- Nighttime driving
- Not using seat belts
- Distracted driving
- Drowsy driving
- Reckless driving
- 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 model 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
Finally, another great way to model safe driving behavior is by having them practice their driving in low-stakes driving environments first, such as deserted parking lots. You can set up cones, practice parallel parking, and more in a low-risk, limited (or no) traffic environment to help lessen anxiety and build skills. Learning to drive is stressful, or can be, but you can help make it less stressful.
This is a great place to have your teen driver use their learner’s permit and practice their driving skills in a low-stakes environment. Not only are empty parking lots free of most hazards (like other vehicles and pedestrians), but they’re also frequently free of observers, meaning your teen will be less concerned with what other people might think.
Great skills to practice in an empty parking lot include:
- Visual walk-through of the car exterior, ensuring tire pressure, mirror positioning, and windows are clear
- Adjusting the seat, mirrors, steering wheel, and seat belt to fit the driver;
- Understanding the function of all the controls, dials, and buttons;
- Controlled three-point turns, parallel parking, and other spatial recognition drills—all of this can help your driver get a sense of how your vehicle maneuvers and handles at low speeds before working up to higher speeds, as well as help them better understand stopping distances at different speeds.
All of this can help lessen your teen’s fear of driving and get them more comfortable behind the wheel.
Relaxation techniques before and after driving—including deep breathing, meditation, and even yoga—can also help mitigate and lessen stress and anxiety surrounding learning how to drive.
Helping them accept that mistakes will happen in a low-pressure environment can also help ease some of that stress and anxiety; it’s often better to help them get over their parallel parking nerves when they might hit a cone than when they might hit another vehicle, for instance.
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 up against them. So what are parents doing to make sure teens are building safe driving habits? The answer is GPS tracking.
- 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 the 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 discussion 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.
Matthew is a freelance writer who is passionate about technology, music, photography, and decentralized finance.
- 7 Easy Steps How To Teach A Scared Teenager To Drive
- 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 A 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