Talking to teenagers – using car journeys to your advantage

There’s something about car journeys that make it easy to talk.  Whether it’s just the enforced ‘privacy’ of the situation that makes us all suddenly share or, and I think this is the case with teenagers, it’s the fact that you don’t have to look directly at each other.  I’m not sure, but I can pretty much guarantee that if something is bothering one or other of the brevren, it’ll come out in the car.  Sometimes I’ll wait until a car journey to bring up a subject that I think needs discussing, but often, it can be ‘are you ok, then?’ that will start a conversation about what’s on their mind.

And whether it’s friend problems, girlfriend issues, worries about school or life in general, it’s easy to sit, watching the world go by and accompanied by the gentle hum of the car, and chat through what’s bothering them with no distractions.  I’m never going to be a candidate for parent of the year, so I’m loathe to give advice, but here are a few things I’ve noticed:

Don’t dive in with advice

I’ve noticed that I get them to be a lot more open when I don’t offer advice.  Sometimes all they need is someone to listen, and sometimes that’s enough.

Invent a trip

Occasionally in the past, I’ve noticed one of the boys seemed a bit down, or I wanted to chat to them about a specific problem.  In this case, don’t be afraid to suggest a trip out to give you some time together.   A five minute trip into town can be all it takes to smooth an issue that’s bothering them.

Ask open questions

Sometimes that ‘everything okay?’ will get you a ‘yeah’ and nothing more, so you need to find another way round it.  Try to ask a few open questions to get a bit more information about a situation, if you go for what/when/how (try to avoid the more  judgmental why?) it’s harder for them to answer yes/no.

Don’t be judgmental

This is a tough one, but I try not to judge (even if I really, really want to – say, if it’s about a friend doing something I really disapprove of) as this tends to shut a conversation down.  I want the boys to feel that they can come to me and discuss ANYTHING, so keeping my trap shut sometimes, even though I’m screaming inside, is important.

And finally…

Don’t always expect them to share

Everybody’s entitled to a private life, and sometimes – even when something’s bothering them – they’re not inclined to share.  Maybe they’re worried about a friend but don’t want to betray a secret, or maybe they’re just having a down day but can’t put their finger on why – don’t pick away at them.  Nine times out of ten they’ll just invent something else to shut you up, so it won’t get you anywhere.  Let them know that you’re there if they need you and leave it at that.

Your Cover have been working with psychologist Dr Simon Moore from London Metropolitan University to look into why important family conversations are often easier in the car.  Click here to go to the Your Cover website and download a factsheet.

2 replies
  1. Belinda
    Belinda says:

    I had a car full of my daughter and her teenage friends the other day and was trying to add an adult viewpoint to a discussion they were having about a school friend with self esteem issues. All was going well but I was focussing too much on the empathetic glances to those in the back and touched bumpers with the car in front, I’m now deemed a good listener but a bad driver :(


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