What to do when your teenager doesn’t want to drive

My 17 year-old son has no desire to get his license, which makes no sense to me. When I was his age, I couldn’t wait to get my license and to have the freedom to drive and drive and drive. Getting a driver’s license opens up so many possibilities and so much more independence, and you would think that he would want some of that.

Instead, my son seems more content being left to himself to text his girlfriend and to play with his video games in his room. He tells me that he just isn’t motivated to drive and doesn’t care. I don’t get it. Is this just the way things are now with teens? I’d love your advice on this.

A Concerned Parent

Concerned Parent:

Actually several research studies have shown that young adults today are driving significantly less than young adults from just a couple of decades ago. For example, a study conducted at the University of Michigan last year reported a fall from 69 percent in 1983 to 46 percent in 2010 for 17 year olds with active drivers’ licenses.

That study revealed several other interesting findings, and some of the study’s top reasons for why young adults are not getting their licenses sooner than later include: (1) being busy and not having enough time, (2) expense, (3) and preference of public transportation, biking and walking over driving. Participants in the study also reported that technology affords many opportunities to get things done without needing to travel.

As a psychologist who works a lot with teenagers, I too have seen a trend in which teens are less excited about driving in recent years than they used to be. Anxiety, emotional immaturity and technology, in my opinion, are the main issues for teens not wanting to drive as much.

It may be the case that your son is simply unmotivated to drive, but it may also be the case that he is anxious about driving and the responsibility and independence that goes along with his getting a driver’s license may be too much to him. You note that texting and gaming are areas of interest for your son. Some teens today find greater comfort and security in the virtual world than they do in the real world. So, it may also be the case then that your son is overlying on technology and his lack of interest in driving (i.e. participating in an age appropriate real-life experience) is a sign of a larger interpersonal or social problem for him.

I recommend sitting down with your son for a heart-to-heart talk. Once you gain a greater understanding of his views on driving, you can address the problem appropriately. Your son may just be a late bloomer and may need more time to warm up to the idea of driving, and your giving him the space to do so may be all that you need to do. Or, your son may be truly anxious about driving, and he
may need some active support and guidance.

Developing an action plan and working alongside your son toward achieving short-term driving goals would then be advised. If he is anxious about driving, start with baby steps and try to make his behind the wheel experience manageable and enjoyable. With his permit, driving in a large empty parking lot or on a quiet road may be a good start. Maybe he could work up to driving to his favorite restaurant with you for lunch or to Game Stop to pick up a new video game.

Keep in mind that, as the old adage goes, “This too shall pass.” If your son is anxious about being behind the wheel now, gradual exposure to driving and ample practice should serve to diminish his anxiety and increase his confidence later.

Gunning for better communication in your marriage

My husband recently bought a gun “for protection in the house if someone breaks in.” We have children, and he knows that I am very much against having a gun in the home. I am furious that he did this without discussing it with me first. I guess he didn’t discuss it with me because he probably knew I’d say “NO!”

He assures me that he has taken all precautionary steps, for example, keeping the ammunition separate from the gun and locking the gun in a gun safe. My husband is a great guy, and I am sure he will be super responsible with the gun (as he usually is with everything), but I just can’t get passed my anger right now. Your thoughts would be helpful.

A Concerned Parent

Concerned Parent:
The gun is not your problem, but rather the problem is your communication as a couple. Replace the gun with the unilateral purchase of a boat, or a new car or an expensive watch and you would probably be just as upset with your husband.

If, as you write, your husband knows that you are against having a gun in the house, and he chose to purchase one without telling you, he did so either (1) because he wasn’t thinking about you at all in that moment or (2) because he purposely avoided you to do what he wanted even knowing that you would become upset. Either one of these possibilities is problematic.

In my opinion, I think you need to reboot the gun moment as a couple so that you can both feel respected in mutually deciding on what is best for your family. First, your husband should return the gun. Second, you should openly discuss your thoughts and feelings on the topic. If you remain far apart after that, I would leave the gun topic alone for a while. If, after listening to one another, however, you can find a compromise, then repurchase the gun with agreed upon expectations in place (e.g., the gun and ammunition are kept in a gun safe, etc.).

By: Dr. Michael Oberschneider, Director

Ashburn Psychological and Psychiatric Services

Published:  Ashburn Patch and Leesburg Patch, 03/05/2014