Q. Our son recently celebrated his 16th birthday, and we gave him our old family car. We thought he’d be excited to take his driver’s license test, but instead he’s dragging his feet. He seems happy having everyone else in the family give him rides, which isn’t always convenient for the rest of us. What do you think is causing this? Can we do anything to motivate him?
A. I’ve heard from a number of parents that their teens seem in no rush to learn to drive. What could cause this phenomenon? I asked a few teens to see if I could do better than guess at an answer. Here are some of their thoughts about driving:
The traffic is bad and there are so many unpredictable drivers in this town. I hear my parents cursing at other drivers as they cut in front of us or move into our lane. I hear from my parents every day that driving is dangerous. I believe it.
My parents tell me how expensive the insurance will be. I don’t want to cause my parents more financial worry. They’re having money problems already.
I worry how I’ll pay for gas. My parents will expect me to do extra work or get a job and if I do, my grades will go down. I’ll be in trouble with my parents.
If someone else drives, I can do homework, play games on my phone, text and visit with friends.
If I drive, my friends will want me to take them places. They could distract me, and I’d hate myself if we had an accident. Some of the kids in my high school have had bad accidents.
Some suggestions for you and your wife would include:
- Find out from your son about why he isn’t interested in driving. Don’t use the word “why,” as it tends to feel like an inquisition to a teen. Try saying to him, “Tell me a little about your thoughts on driving.” Once you know the thoughts that keep him wanting not to drive, you can address his concerns.
- Model good defensive as well as courteous driving. Stop cursing other drivers and talk about good defensive, courteous driving.
- If your teen hasn’t had driver’s training from a good professional, try to find one he can relate to and provide some professional driver’s education.
- Check with community organizations that offer teens help with information on topics such as driver’s licensing laws, avoiding distracted driving, driving safely and more. For example, the American Automobile Association (AAA) offers driver safety fairs in Austin. Check with AAA for upcoming teen driver safety fairs.
Also, I want you to think about the possibility that you could be blessed by waiting until your son feels ready to drive. You could benefit by making two columns on a page and list the benefits of his driving on one side and the problems of his driving on the other. Ask yourself if you can you alleviate, prevent or deal with the problems associated with driving.
It’s helpful to remember that one responsibility of parenting is to assure not only the safety of a child, but to help a child feel safe—safe himself and safe from hurting others—yet have the confidence to try new and difficult things.
Betty Richardson, Ph.D., R.N.C., L.P.C., L.M.F.T., is an Austin-based psychotherapist who specializes in dealing with the problems of children, adolescents and parents.
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