How can I get my Teenager to Focus on the Road?

By Karen Fried, co-director of the K&M center


Below is a frequent question I get regarding teenage drivers who have
weak attention and executive functioning skills:
“Do you have any suggested reading or tips on teaching a kid with attention and EF issues to drive? Jeremy thankfully has a very good sense of handling the car, but seems to get stuck on thinking and driving at the same time.
Thanks for any help you can offer,

Jeremy’s mom”

My response:

The advice I give routinely is to teach the young
driver executive functioning skills as they pertain to driving in the same
way they learn any other skill that is heavily dependent upon
executive functioning.
Jeremy needs a briefing on each skill and as many
strategies to prepare ahead of time so he isn’t taxed

by having to strategize while on the road:

Inhibition:

The ability to control his immediate reaction to a stimulus.
This includes avoiding honking at an annoying
driver, speeding even if there’s no traffic and
rushing through a light if he’s in a hurry.

Shift:

This is Jeremy’s ability to make a quick transition
if necessary. It is his short-term plan if there’s
a detour on his way, he realizes he’s going in the
wrong direction, or the music he’s listening to isn’t

what he wants, etc.

Emotional Control:

Lots of tense moments driving in LA, including
that obnoxious driver who just cut him off, took
his parking space, etc. What’s the best strategy
that is pre-planned so he can rely on that rather

than his emotional response in the moment.

Initiation:

The pre-planning for a trip should be his point
of initiation rather than just getting in the car

and winging it.

Working memory:

Driving puts a big load on the working memory.
Just as you said, there is the mechanics of
driving the car, as well as being alert to
the road, other drivers, etc. The more
practice he has with handling the car,
the more pre-planning he has, the
less the working memory is stressed

while driving.

Planning/Organization:

Planning out his trip, where is he going,
how long will it take, what is the best route,
putting his cell phone in the glove compartment,
setting the music before he starts the car, etc.
Organization of Materials:
Making sure he’s not looking for his book, phone,

drink while at a stop light.

Self-monitoring:

How’s he driving? If someone else was observing
his performance, how would they rate him as an

alert safe driver?

Here is Jeremy’s mom’s response:

“Wow – this is so helpful and I haven’t even clicked on the link yet!! Karen, it’s as if you’ve been in the car with us. You’ve named all of his issues. Thank you!”
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About Karen Fried PsyD MFT

Karen is the co-founder and co-director of The K&M Center, an educational therapy center in Santa Monica, California.
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