Kids in the Car: Talking to Teens

When we are driving and have a teen in the car, great communication can happen.

Posted Feb 29, 2016

As parents (particularly) communicating with a teenager can be a challenge. Parents compete with friends, technology and screens, and just about ANYTHING else that an adolescent would like to do besides chat with mom or dad. It can be difficult to have the time to talk.

Several parents have experimented with this recently, and they have shared with me some of their insights:

"The best conversation I had with (my son) was when I was teaching him how to parallel park. We were stuck in the car, so we really had to hear each other out" 

"I only get a few minutes to talk with her, and so when she's in the back seat, I have to be careful not to unload everything I wanted to tell her, but when I do talk, we seem to fight less."

One solution that parents I work with have found helpful, is to use time in the car to talk. There are a number of reasons why this seems to be more effective than a lecture or "discussion" at home or elsewhere:

  1. You have a captive audience-your passenger cannot leave at any time (at least safely). 
  2. It's less threatening-sitting beside or better yet, behind a parent, can feel less intimidating or less threatening to a child or adolescent.
  3. Car rides are limited in time-unless you are on a longer drive, you have only a limited time to get your point across and engage in a dialogue.
  4. Distractions can be minimized-although you may still have to compete with a phone or music player, your child will have fewer other distractions.

It's important to ask questions (preferably open-ended), not lecture or scold, be open to responses, and if your child or teenager decides not to interact, let her (or him) know that if you don't get his or her input, that you will have to make decisions on your own, based upon what you think.

Of course you should minimize your own distractions and be safe while driving, especially with passengers. 

I really like this article from Kelly Wallace at CNN that I read a few years ago:

About the Author

Fred Peipman, Ph.D., is a therapist in San Francisco and Palo Alto and the author of Parenting Across the Gap: Raising Teens in the 21st Century.

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