My 18 year old son has no interest whatsoever in driving. He has his learners permit, has taken a driving course and did well with the course. He’s afraid of having a car accident and killing someone. I’ve tried to talk to him and reassure him. Can you please help me? Thanks!
Dear Concerned Mom,
It’s normal for a young adult to be apprehensive when he or she is attempting a new task, especially one that could result in a life or death outcome. What is different about your son’s fear is despite practicing to drive, his “worry thoughts” are not being reduced. There is also a significant impact on his quality of life without a driver’s license and even in the face of that, the fear out weighs the motivation for independence.
I recommend that you support your son through collaboration. Set up specific goals around driving together. That may sound like “let’s drive 15 minutes everyday” or “I’ll drive us to the events, you drive us home.” I would also ask that he set a specific date to get his license that seems manageable to him. It is essential that he feel as if you are partnering with him on this and that he is personally motivated. If not, this will turn into a heart-breaking power struggle and you won’t get the results you are looking for. I am not saying that he can’t be uncomfortable with those goals, but we are shooting for stress reduction through exposure and we need him to be on board with feeling the fear, but doing it anyway.
If offering to support him with this process is ineffective, your son may be struggling with an anxiety disorder. The question is which one? A Specific Phobia would be fear around one specific activity, object or situation. Generalized Anxiety Disorder would be identified by a presence of multiple excessive and unwarranted fears. I also see that some of my clients with Autism Spectrum Disorders have high levels of anxiety around driving and other activities that their typical peers have been anticipating with excitement.
If you think your son is struggling with an anxiety disorder or another diagnosis, he is going to need professional assistance. Remember, his fear feels real to him and you will need to be patient. Finding a therapist who specializes in treating anxiety disorders will be essential. Currently the gold standard is Cognitive Behavioral based interventions and some times medication is also needed. Anxiety disorders can be overcome if you receive the proper assistance. In the meantime, Thank God for Uber!
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