Any way you slice it, learning to drive is a milestone for teenagers. For many, getting behind the wheel represents freedom and independence, but for others, taking the reins of a 3,000-pound beast is more than a little scary. Each child is different, and you know your teenager better than anyone; while there is no magic elixir to cure your teen's auto-phobia, you can use a variety of tactics to help ease his transition to the driver's seat.
Start teaching your teen to drive slowly and gradually. First, take him to an empty parking lot and let him drive at about 5 miles per hour without having to worry about other drivers. Work at his pace and respect his comfort level, even if it takes months of regular practice.
Transition to the side streets, avoiding rush hour and freeways, when your teen feels ready. Stick with low-traffic locations first. Once your teen is comfortable there, try the freeway for one exit, then two exits. Patrick B. McGrath, director at the Center for Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, says that the goal here is to take your teen's anxiety down to half of what it was, and then half of that and so on. You can accomplish this be repeating the task at hand -- in this case, driving -- until it becomes routine.
Enroll your teen in a driver's education course. If your child's high school offers driver's training, encourage him to take that as well. These types of classes put your teen in a safe, educational environment under the supervision of trained professionals, helping ease the risk factor. Your teen may be more likely to trust a certified instructor, and the potential insurance breaks don't hurt either.
Stop giving rides. Taking away your parental taxi service nudges your child into getting behind the wheel. If you feel that your teen has the facilities and capabilities to drive himself, ease him out of his dependence on your ride. When it starts affecting his social life, or even his ability to get a job, he may look inward to find the solution to his problem.
Throughout the teaching process, maintain a cool demeanor and level head. Never snap, yell or force your teen out of his comfort zone. Encourage, but don't push.
Take special care if your teen has experienced auto accident-related trauma. Writing for PsychCentral, licensed psychologist Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker recommends giving your teen as much time as he needs away from the car and then letting him simply sit behind the wheel. Allow him to just sit and breathe until he is totally calm before turning on the ignition.
If your teen refuses to drive even after weeks or months or seems to have a strong fear of driving-related death, take him to a mental health professional. In some cases, deep-seated emotions associated with driving require the help of a therapist or psychiatrist to work out. At the end of the day, you may find that your teen simply isn't a driver, and that for him, riding a bike or taking public transit are equally valid transportation options.