Teen Driving Anxiety On The Rise. Here's How To Help.

Got a Teen Learning to Drive This Summer? Starting driver’s ed can be a nerve-wracking time for teens (and their parents!). If you have a teenager who plans to learn to drive this summer, you both might be feeling a lot of emotions: excitement, anticipation, and even anxiety.

You’re not alone. According to a study conducted by Aceable, 87% of teens who started driving during the pandemic were anxious about it, and 78% of parents of new drivers felt worried about their teens driving. We’ve got feelings out here, guys!

Covid Delayed Driving

And while it’s normal for new drivers and their parents to feel some jitters, the pause the pandemic put on every aspect of life has only made things worse. 

83% of teens who started driving in the last two years postponed getting their license during the pandemic. Why? For 79% of teens, it was a logistical issue: DMVs were closed or understaffed. 

84% of people put off getting a license because they just didn’t need to drive during the shutdown. But nine out of 10 respondents said their teen also postponed getting licensed because they were anxious about driving.

Driver’s Ed This Summer

Now that the world is opening up again, many teens who delayed getting a driver’s license over the last two years are gearing up to learn to drive this summer. But just because the DMV is at full capacity again doesn’t mean the worry has gone away. How can parents help? Here are five suggestions from our experts at Aceable. 

Strategy 1: Acknowledge Their Feelings

It’s actually extremely logical to be anxious about learning to drive. You’re out here trying to pilot a two-ton death machine surrounded by fragile pedestrians. It’s natural to feel the weight of that, and in fact, shows that your teen is taking the responsibility of being on the road seriously.

Instead of telling them not to worry, honor what they’re feeling, but assure them that you trust them to make safe choices. That’s what driver’s ed is for, after all: to teach new drivers how to be good drivers.

Strategy 2: Acknowledge Your Feelings

Kids know when you’re lying to them or sugarcoating the truth. Instead of putting on a facade, if you’re feeling nervous about them learning to drive, share your feelings. (But be careful how you express those feelings. You don’t want your teen to feel attacked or undermined.)

Instead, talk about what you felt like when you were learning drive. Share mistakes you made or funny stories from your days in driver’s ed. Stress to them that feeling anxious is normal for everyone, but that you’ve got their back in this. Learning to drive is a team effort!

Strategy 3: Start Learning ASAP

You don’t have to be officially enrolled in driver’s ed to start learning some of the rules of the road. Next time you’re in the car with your teen, point out road signs and ask them what they mean. Quiz them about who has the right-of-way in a given situation.

Get them thinking like a driver, not a passenger. This will jumpstart their learning and will also put them more at ease once they’re the ones behind the wheel. 

Strategy 4: Deep Breathing

It may sound silly, but deep breathing exercises actually do lessen anxiety. Develop a ritual where you take a few deep breaths together before you start the car. You can get in the habit of doing this even before your teen begins their behind-the-wheel training. 

This helps teach your brains to let go of worry when you get in the vehicle. De-stressing before a drive makes for better drivers and better driving coaches.

Strategy 5: Get Involved

Driving is a huge step closer to independence and adulthood. For some teens, that is very exciting. For others, that might be another source of anxiety. 

While nobody needs a helicopter parent, getting involved in your teen’s driver’s ed can be a way to signal that you’ll always be there when they need you. Just because they’re taking this big step doesn’t mean they have to have it all figured out on their own all of a sudden.

That involvement could be small things, like helping them fill out paperwork or keep to a study schedule. Or it could be that you decide to tackle behind-the-wheel training together through Parent-taught drivers ed programs.

Many parents have found that Parent-taught drivers ed is a good way to make sure their teens are getting the training they need to be great drivers. It gives you a chance to share your best driving tips and tricks, and lets you use your knowledge of how your child learns best to coach them on their driving journey.

Whatever anxiety-fighting tactics you use, remind yourself that your teen will eventually learn to drive. You’ve got this!

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Audrey Ference

Updated 6/17/22