Driving is a huge milestone in a teenager’s life, complete with excitement, freedom, and fear. Teens don’t usually talk about that last part, but I’m not your typical teen. So here it is: driving is scary. I didn’t drive until a few months before I got my license, last November, and I’ve only just gotten comfortable driving on the highway. There were lots of reasons for my driving anxiety: I was worried my ADHD would mean I couldn’t focus while driving; I thought I might hurt someone; I had tons of intrusive thoughts about getting into an accident. I was terrified and just the thought of driving was a huge panic attack trigger for me.
So, I took my time and told myself that I just needed to get used to driving. Then it was months and months after I had gotten my permit and I had driven only twice. I wanted to drive and be good at it like all of my friends, but sitting in that driver’s seat paralyzed me. Soon, my family began to pressure me. My much younger cousin was about to get her permit so there were the inevitable comparisons, which just made me resent the idea of driving even more because I now associated it with feeling inferior. Then came those “Oh, I’ll have to stay off the road now that you’re driving” jokes. Hilarious (insert sarcastic emoji). Those jokes made me believe that I really was a bad driver—that I shouldn’t drive at all.
Eventually, I got a driving instructor who did exactly what I needed–she made me drive. I didn’t have a choice because I was paying her so I had to go. Almost immediately, my comfort skyrocketed, and, though it has taken me almost a year to drive on the highway, I feel so much calmer about it now.
So how can you support teens you love who are struggling with driving? For starters, stop with the jokes. Next, provide encouragement but not pressure. My grandma, since the day I got my license, constantly told me how excited she was for me to come visit her (about 45 minutes away on the highway). She never pressured me and patiently waited until I was ready. With surprising her as a motivation, I made a plan to visit.
Through this experience I learned a lot about managing my anxiety. Sometimes (maybe, usually?), the best solution to my anxiety is just doing that thing that makes me anxious. Avoiding driving only made it worse. I keep reminding myself that I am stronger than those intrusive thoughts. Most importantly, I learned that it is okay to do things in your own time. As Abs always says, “your pace is the pace.”
What did you think about driving when you first started? If you don’t drive yet, where is the first place you want to drive when you start?