Why some of the most important parenting moments with teenagers occur in cars.
Car journeys are the perfect venue for chats with teenagers. They are captive and if you make them sit in the front where they are accessible, you can force them to speak to you…almost. If they are in the back, that’s a different matter as they are generally plugged into something or other and you have to wave your hand around to tap them on the knee if you need an urgent response to questions such as ‘where are we going’.
In the old days, we used to spend car journeys singing One Direction. Now everyone is connected to their phone and has earphones in so they could be listening to all manner of things. On the up side, when they do put some songs on the central system – generally using my phone – it seems to be a lot of really great classics like George Michael, Ella Fitzgerald and the like with a bit of Arctic Monkeys and the 1975 mixed in. Maybe they are not all tuned into porn etc. At the end of the day, you have to hope that conversations and input during the early years have paid off. Trust is everything – in them and in your own parenting abilities, however haphazard and catastrophe-focused they might be.
It is almost impossible to force a conversation out of a teenager, of course – all you can do is create the right environment and wait for the moment to strike. But when it does it can be a revelation. While you thought they were withdrawn and overly introspective, possibly being dragged into internet wormholes of doom, anxious about the state of the world and politics, they may actually be busy working out their views on life and reflecting in depth about the history of ideas, relationships, what modern life means, whether TikTok is damaging people’s ability to think independently and more.
Some of the best, most positive conversations I have ever had have been with teenagers trapped in the car with me. They are interested in the world and in discussing ideas, not shutting them down. They find the tendency to shout at and ‘cancel’ people tedious and unproductive and feel it stops them having the interesting conversations about complex issues that they want to have. It makes me absolutely proud to listen and engage. That’s what we are aiming for after all – to raise resilient independent thinkers who can go out into the world and listen as well as be heard.