by Priscilla Greear
An increasing number of teens are postponing getting their driver’s license at 16, opting rather to catch an Uber or a ride with parents while looking at their smartphone. Going out is not as urgent with virtual connection at their fingertips, and Miami's infamous road rage isn't exactly added encouragement to the anxious.
Yet driving is truly a life skill and key to safety, independence and personal achievement, and the teen years are an ideal time to learn while under family supervision. So gently encourage nimble-minded youth to take that next step and get a learner's permit.
Look under the hood of reluctance:
The number of teen drivers continues to decelerate and more are reluctant to shift from their controlled world into driver mode. The Washington Post article "Why Aren't Teenagers Driving Anymore?" reports that 60 percent of American 18-year-olds had a license in 2021, down from 80% in 1983 according to data from the Federal Highway Administration. In the same period the number of 16-year-olds with licenses dropped from 46 to 25 percent.
Reasons abound, from the teen mental health crisis and soaring aggressive driving, to expensive classes and car insurance, environmental impact, and fear of being pulled over. And with smart phones it's simply less urgent to meet friends in person. Medium.com reports another obvious reason that only 15% of students take driver's education at school up from 95% in the 1970s.
Licensed clinical mental counselor Joanna Von Staden advises parents in the Post article to gently challenge kids who may secretly not want to drive due to anxiety rather than just saying "oh good." "That's just feeding into and reinforcing that fear. You don't have to buy a car or drive all the time. But this is a life skill, and we can do hard things. We can do scary things."
Freedom to choose:
In parents.com, Elise Aronov, MSW, encourages children to do what they are comfortable with. But she advises parents to remind them that they can get their license and not use it right away. Deirdre Narcisse, Psy.D., says to emphasize how driving can give teens more options. "Having a driver's license means being able to be a designated driver in an emergency or if a friend isn't capable of driving home one day. In the event of a worst-case scenario when a parent becomes incapacitated because they became ill, having a teen driver ready to step in can be invaluable," says Narcisse. And for jittery would-be drivers, "acknowledge their feelings, don't use judgmental language. Do ask them, though, what would make driving a less stressful experience," she adds.
Focus on safety, responsibility:
Parents can prepare children to navigate the roads more safely now or later, stresses parents.com. Access online resources and tutorials like "Helpful DIY" on YouTube. Or buy your child a package of driving lessons. Wehavekids.com notes that some youth may not want to be taught by bossy parents. "Your kid will learn more from a stranger because there's no emotional baggage."
Nanette Hartley in the Post article tells how she and her husband created a rule for their younger son to ride device-free in the car the year before he was old enough to get his learner's. "'He had to pay attention to our driving,' she says. Hartley's son recently passed his road test, but he still hasn't initiated much practice driving and his parents aren't pushing him. "Another parent Michelle McNalley describes how her 17-year-old took a year to learn but then embraced "a newfound sense of responsibility."