What Motivates Your Child to Get a License?
Dear Your Teen:
My 17-year-old has no interest in driving. At this point, all of her friends have their licenses, so she does not rely on us for rides. We are worried that she isn’t motivated. Who doesn’t want the independence that comes with a license? Do we pressure her or force her to get her license or do we wait until she is ready? What if she is never ready? Is it anxiety or is it really that she’s not motivated?
You’re right to think that there could be many different influences on your daughter not getting her license. Figuring out what’s holding her up would be ideal because that information can inform the approach you take. Think about what motivates your child. But if your daughter is a typical teen, I imagine that you’ve already asked her and gotten responses like “I don’t know” or “I just don’t feel like it.” My hunch is that it’s some combination of mild anxiety, feeling overwhelmed by the process, and normal development. Bearing this in mind, you’ll want to provide the structure and support for her to feel like getting her license is an attainable and desirable goal, while also removing the things that make anxious avoidance more likely.
Helping anxious teens get their licenses: What Motivates Your Child?
For anxious kids, families and friends have ways of “accommodating” the anxiety, or changing things around in order to help lower the discomfort. So if your daughter has anxiety around driving, it may be that her friends accommodate her by driving her everywhere. There’s probably little you can do about her riding with her friends; to suddenly impose restrictive rules about that would seem cruel. But you can reduce your own accommodation of her anxiety by telling her you won’t be able to give her as many rides and sticking to it. Once some natural consequences kick in, where maybe she doesn’t get to a party because she can’t get a ride, her motivation to get her license may increase.
It’s important to note that this would be the approach with mild anxiety. If her anxiety around driving is more severe, or perhaps is even a response to a trauma like being in a car accident, it’s time to get professional help. A behavioral therapist could help her face her anxiety gradually by performing tasks that cause mild anxiety first (like sitting in the driver’s seat) before working up to the ultimate goal of having her drive independently.
She might also feel that the process of getting her license seems too daunting. Some teens have more difficulty than others with planning and organization. When a task has too many steps, or they can’t figure out where to start, they may shut down and avoid it altogether. Offering to help her figure out all of the required steps and then creating a timeline could be just the help she needs to get over the initial hump. You could even throw in some mini-rewards along the way, like a favorite meal or that tank top she’s had her eye on..
Finally, it could be that driving is a responsibility she’s just not ready for. All teens develop differently, and that’s okay! Perhaps she sees it as the first step to adulthood and that’s a little too much for her. We want to listen to our kids when they give us these messages and respect the pace at which they take on life’s responsibilities. If you can help her feel supported through the process of obtaining her license, while minimizing any potential barriers, like mild anxiety or difficulty planning, she will get there when the time is right.
Matthew Rouse, PhD, MSW, is a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute specializing in the assessment and treatment of ADHD and disruptive behavior disorders, as well as other disorders that may contribute to behavioral difficulties in children and adolescents.