As the mother of a teen, I’m always looking for ways to increase communication with my son. When he was younger, my husband and I used to encourage conversation by leaving things out around the house, such as a book, a toy, a picture – whatever might grab his interest. It was a lot like having conversation-starter cards at a party, only with cooler things like comic books and toys. As he got older, I stumbled across another great conversation tool: rides in the car.
It may seem a little strange to focus on car time, but at home, we typically fall into our own separate routines, and our conversations are less engaging and more lecture or direction based (I’m either “laying-down-the-hammer” mom or “instructor” mom). I try to balance all the instruction talk with genuine “hang out” time, and car rides have proven good for this. We head out together and I get to converse with my son as a friend, a mentor, and a supportive mom.
I even save specific conversations for upcoming car rides. For instance, on our recent trip to Water World, we talked about how much fun we were going to have swimming and riding all the rides, and I casually brought up the topic of teenagers being self-conscious about their bodies. He had made some comments recently about his looks, and I wanted to check in with him to see how he was feeling (and to remind him how dashing he is). Normally, this might be an odd topic to bring up “out of the blue,” but it was relevant to our adventure, and we had a good discussion.
I use car time often. During the school year, I use the morning ride to send him off with a positive vibe, and when I pick him up from school, we ask each other about our day and discuss anything important. We’ve also had some great conversations while out on errands. I really like trips across town, to the foothills, or up the mountain for a little hike. On these trips, we have time to talk about what we’re going to do at our destination and/or just enjoy each other’s company, but it’s not so long that we start getting bored or need something else to do in the car.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any magic formulas for creating successful conversations. If there were, I’d be typing this while sipping a martini in the mansion that I had purchased from the sales of my published books. Alas, I am sipping a shandy in a place nowhere near mansion status. While I don’t have a formula, I do have a list of benefits and important things to remember to help maximize the conversation time in the car:
Less Intense. Sitting down, face-to-face, means eye contact, which may hinder teenage conversation. Car conversations allow you to sit side-by-side and talk as you look out of the windows. You can even use the passing scenery as conversation starters or changers, if needed.
No Electronics. It’s a good time to instigate the concept of no electronics while driving (especially important when THEY start driving). I don’t insist on this rule all the time – especially on really long drives, but when my son and I run errands, there’s no need for him to play games on his DS or my phone.
Silence. It can also be a good time to be silent together. This may seem counterproductive to the whole communication topic, but being able to sit in comfortable silence with someone is actually a very healthy relationship dynamic. Sometimes people feel pressured to break the silence, which can lead to forced conversations or even fighting. Instead, the ability to enjoy each other’s company in silence allows everyone in the car to have the space and time they need to talk or to not talk.
Things to Remember
Be Open Minded. It’s important to enter the car (and any conversation) with an open mind. If your kid knows that you are truly interested in hearing what they have to say, they will be more willing to talk. Honestly, I’ve tried to make the car a “no lecture” zone. Instead, we explore ideas together, ask each other questions, vent our frustrations from our day, and offer support to each other – it’s a time to listen.
Think Peace. This is not a time to fight with each other. When you’re in a car, you’re in a small, metal container moving at 60 mph. This is a time for calmness and concentration. Casual conversation is the name of the game. If the conversation turns serious and needs more attention, consider stopping somewhere for a treat or coffee (teenager = coffee — hot chocolate is a little kid thing, apparently) and focusing on the topic there.
Have Fun! I enjoy heading out with my kiddo, and I try to remember to have fun with him. On errand days, we always try to have at least one fun stop (usually ice cream), and I try to let him be involved in whatever we’re doing, not only to teach him good life skills, but to engage him in our family decisions.