Car Talks with Your Teens

If I have one golden piece of parenting advice, it’s the Erma Bombeck quip to not have more kids than you have windows in your car. If I had a second piece of parenting advice, it would be that car trips are the best time to have deep conversations with your children.

I’ve written about this parenting technique before. Basically, the car is perfect for a great talk with kids. They respond well because they don’t have to look you in the eyes. It’s good for you, the parent, because they can’t get away and you have their undivided attention.

Now even my youngest can drive. It’s a pleasure to be her passenger and to have a chat when she’s driving us on errands. I feel like I could get revenge for all those car trips where she screamed non-stop for hours because she hated the car seat. I was the monster mom who really insisted she be buckled up in a moving car. She happily wears a seat belt now, and hasn’t screamed on a road trip in years.

Parenting Means Being Connected

I rarely see (my) teenagers without a smartphone in their hand or headphones over their ears. It’s so hard to get their attention. Yesterday, my oldest was in the same room as me, but I had to say her name three times before she noticed me. I may have also been waving my arms like I was trying to land a plane.

Stay connected with your teens by having screen-free, headphone-free time in the car. Not all the time, because the quiet can be a blessed break. But use that downtime to have some quality time talking.

Let Your Teen Plan a Family Trip

I’m not raising kids, I’m raising future adults. This means I actively involve them in the small everyday decisions that make up daily life, and in the less frequent things like planning the annual vacation.

Last year birthday gifts to my two teens were passports and a road/train trip to Canada. Letting the girls help plan where we went, what we did, and what we ate really engaged them. Also, it gave them experience with all the little travel details of booking tickets, finding lodging, following a budget, and prioritizing our to-do list.

Giving the girls the power of making decisions also cut down on the grumbling and foot-dragging that may have occurred on earlier trips (Walt Disney World was NOT the happiest place on earth for us). Now, they would gladly do that thing they didn’t want to do knowing the next stop was something they had planned.

Montreal was our best family vacation ever. I especially treasure the conversations we were able to have both on the road, during our site-seeing walks, and while we were at our Airbnb.

Take Advantage of the Little Moments 

You don’t have to go to Montreal to have talks in the car with your kid. Since we have four children, I’ve always tried to plan my regular errands to include only one kid whenever possible.

My children liked that time when they didn’t have to share my attention with three other kids. This was true whether they were my quiet, introspective ones, or my extroverted, high-attention-needing ones. Yes, I had two of each.

Your kids are highly unlikely to confide in you when their brothers or sisters are present. You are the one they trust over anyone, and you need the privacy the car provides. Even if it’s just a fifteen minute car ride to Costco, your undivided attention is a valuable gift.

Be Prepared for Important Topics

Part of parenting means being one step ahead of your kids. I listen to music and watch shows I wouldn’t choose for myself just to keep up with what my teens like. I learn about current social media platforms and slang so I can be on fleek on Snapchat and ruin them both for my kids be an awesome parent.

Listening to K-pop and watching 13 Reasons Why are great, but you also need to know what to say when the topic of alcohol comes up. I’m so happy to write for AskListenLearn.org and draw attention to their useful info for parents.

Learn why it’s important that children under the legal drinking age refrain from alcohol. Your child wants more reasons than “because I say so”. Get information from experts on when and how to discuss alcohol, and how to get the conversation started.

Your kids may be super-mature for their age, but they still need your ear, your advice, your attention. Take advantage of every opportunity to connect with your precious children whether you are on a special vacation trip or just going to the grocery store.


Anne Parris is a mother of four and a recovering accountant. She blogs at NotASupermom.com and is one of the partners publishing MidlifeBoulevard.com, a site for women over forty.
*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (Responsibility.org), Ask Listen Learn or any Responsibility.org member.*