How To Ease Your Anxious Teen Into Driving Confidently

Teen Driving

It’s the craziest thing. You mentally gear up for the teen driving years and your teen wants nothing to do with it. What’s up with that?

Statistics prove our ADHD teens are higher risk drivers, getting in more accidents and making impulsive decisions behind the wheel.

Naturally, we want to hold our teens back. In many cases this is necessary. Kuddo’s to you for doing the tough thing.

But what about teens who are so fearful of driving they avoid it at all costs? They even avoid it after getting their license.

Does your teen have driving anxiety?
Fear vs Anxiety.

~A natural and helpful alarm that alerts us to potentially dangerous situations.
~Nature of the threat is immediate.
~Physically it feels like a surge of panic.
~Its’ purpose is survival.


~Thinking about or imagining some threat that we could encounter.
~Nature of the threat is in the future.
~Physically it feels like chronic tension and arousal.
~Its’ purpose is preparedness.

When we imagine a situation or activity will bring potential threat, we may choose to avoid the situation. If we find ourselves afraid or anxious, we may try a number of strategies to escape. Or, when faced with over-powering emotions, we may freeze and stay immobilized or stuck in hopes that the threat or stressors will pass.

Anxiety limits our choices.
How Anxiety Behaves:

  • Making obvious choices to avoid people, places, and activities that elicit fear.
  • Subtle changes in behavior sometimes disguised as preferences.
  • Going through the motions instead of truly engaging in important activities.
  • Making little choices and compromises to reduce distress without being fully aware of your actions and their consequences.

Our teens are missing out on opportunities with friends, get a job and most importantly build independence when driving anxiety sends them into avoidance.

I usually coach fears and anxiety with a question like,

“What is the worst thing that can happen if you drive?”

But yah, it doesn’t work here because the worst thing happens every day.

What’s getting in the way?

1. Delay in Maturity

Many teens with ADHD are developmentally immature compared to their peers. Dr. Russell Barkley often cautions parents that youth with ADHD may be as much as 3-5 years behind their peers.  Licensing agencies and parents would not allow a 12-year-old to drive because they lack the ability to pay attention to the driving task or are unable to control their behavior.  It’s important for you to honestly assess your teen’s maturity level and to not push your teen to drive if not ready.

2. Catastrophic Thinking

Our teens think that everything that can go wrong will go wrong.
“I’ll end up killing someone and myself.”

3. Not Trusting Themselves

Our teens don’t trust themselves to really be “present” when driving because they experience inattention, “space out”, and daydream. They get easily distracted by phone calls, texting and music.  Often they lack the ability to pull themselves back to “the attention” of driving before it’s too late.

Not something to be taken lightly. It explains why two of the most common traffic violations for those with ADHD are speeding and failure to yield. Those who experience ADHD often lose track of time and are often late. Mistakenly, they think they can make up the time by driving faster, which can cause them to lose control of their vehicles.

4. Not Having Control of the Unknown

Our teens like to have control. Our ADHD teens have to know they have control and a plan for every possible scenario. That’s not realistic. Knowing this sends them into avoidance tactics.

How can you help build your teens driving confidence?

Respect where your kid is at developmentally.
Don’t Judge. Acknowledge their feelings. Say, “I can hear how nervous you are about driving.” Then ask, “What ideas do you have to make driving less stressful for you?” Hint: Not driving is not a good answer. Ask again, “What other ideas do you have?”

Slowly Build Independence
Encourage your licensed teen driver to drive alone on short trips around the neighborhood. Slowly expand the radius of these trips in-line with your teens increasing confidence.

Prepare for Getting Lost and Finding The Way Back

  • Get your teen comfortable using car and phone GPS systems.
  • Have your teen start telling you street names and landmarks before they start driving. Whenever you’re in the car with your teen have your teen tell you where to turn, the name of the street you’re on…you get the idea.
  • Keep a step-by-step list, including phone numbers in the glove compartment of what your teen should do if lost.
  • Let your teen practice asking for directions with you. Then, it won’t be so scary when it’s with a stranger.
  • Have a small pad of paper and pen in the car for your teen to write directions. Working memory for your teen can stall in moments of stress.

Cover The Basics
Teach your teen how to fill the gas, use hazards, emergency brake, pop the hood, read the dashboard warning lights and fill the window washer fluid.

Important Papers
Show your teen where all the paperwork including vehicle registration and insurance cards are kept in the car. Include a list of phone numbers including, your home and cell numbers, an emergency friend/relatives numbers, and roadside assistance.

Prepare for An Accident
Give a step-by-step list of what your teen should do if involved in an accident. Include the phone numbers on this list too. Sometimes we can’t think of pressing the one button on our phone when in crisis.

Prepare for Car Trouble
Give step-by-step list of what to do for a flat tire, if the car starts overheating, if dashboard warning lights come on, if the car won’t start, if  stuck in a ditch or snow bank. Show your teen where the spare tire and tools are kept. And include all the phone numbers here again.

How do you know when it’s safe to gently nudge your teen into the uncomfortable driving zone?

If only there was an answer. Trust your intuition and your teens.

When you understand what is lurking beneath your teens outward hesitation to driving you can get your teen on the road safely and confidently.

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