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Making the Miles Count

Let’s face it: No parent really wants to have the “sex talk” or a pointed discussion about drugs with their kids. While these conversations can be difficult—not to mention awkward or hard to approach—they are important and necessary.

A good way to lessen the anxiety associated with these kinds of talks is, interestingly, all about location. Instead of having these frank discussions at the kitchen table, move the conversation to the car. You might be pleasantly surprised by how much your kids open up.


Just the right setting

There are many advantages to talking to your kids about serious issues while driving in the car. At home, kids have a way of escaping the conversation, excusing themselves to do their homework or chores. In the car, however, they are your captive audience for the duration of the drive. Many of the common distractions are limited and easily eliminated, and you have a little more control in this setting. They can’t leave in the middle of a talk, no matter how much they might want to.

Also, while it’s always good to have a face-to-face conversation with your child, when it comes to important, but sensitive topics, having both the parent and child looking straight ahead can create an environment in which your child feels more free to talk.


Use your drive time wisely

Whether your ride is short or long, it’s best not to jump right into the serious discussion just as soon as you start the engine. Your kids will quickly associate a drive with you with these less-than-enjoyable talks and will do their best to avoid the conversation.

Start the ride by turning up the radio volume and listening to some music together. This creates a relaxed atmosphere and is still time well spent with your child. You can also engage in small talk by asking them how their day was at school, what their plans are for the weekend, or how their new soccer coach is working out.

A good rule of thumb is that as the miles increase, so do the talks that you have with your kids. Start simply and talk about topics that best suits your child’s age. Remember to ask questions, which helps the discussion become less of a lecture. Asking questions also gives children the chance to be more involved in the conversation, rather than it being one-sided.

For example, if the discussion is about drugs, ask your child if he knows about a certain drug or whether anyone he knows is using drugs. This takes the focus off him and makes the subject less personal.


Time management

Another benefit of having a talk in the car is that time can be on your—or your child’s—side. For instance, during a quick trip to the grocery store, you’ll only have time to discuss more general topics such as school and friends. While these conversations are short, they still create opportunities for parents to find out what’s going on in their child’s life, which can lead to more in-depth conversations later.

On longer trips, like summer vacation road trips or drives to an out-of-town sports or school function, you can take advantage of the miles and have a long discussion about more serious and important issues.

In time, your car could become a safe, familiar place where your children know they can talk to you about anything, whether it’s simply about their day or about if they’ve been pressured to try drugs. The key is to create an environment where they feel comfortable to share and be engaged in the conversation. 

How do you start a conversation with a reluctant teen? Here are six ideas to try.

  1. Talk about a “neutral” issue. Not every conversation has to be about feelings and relationships. Read a book and discuss the choices the characters made. Watch a movie and talk about it. Take an article from a magazine and discuss it.
  2. Use time at the table. Family dinners encourage conversations, but let everybody share the load. Think of a few questions for people to answer, and avoid judging the replies. Some possible topics: quizzes at school, favorite films, reports due, assemblies attended, geography trivia, headline news.
  3. Refine your questions. Learn to ask gentle questions that require more than a yes-or-no answer.
  4. Make the most of drive time. Tired of being your teen’s chauffeur? Unless talking in the car disturbs your concentration as a driver, discuss topics that come up naturally. That might include the weather, where your teen would like to go if he could go anywhere, or the kinds of cars your teen likes.
  5. Greeting your teen after a date or a night out with friends. Offer a snack and make yourself available for a chat.
  6. Try commercial conversations. Watch a favorite TV show together and talk during the commercials. View a football game and talk during the halftime show. Watch the news and discuss the stories during the breaks. These short bursts of communication, conducted without having to sit face-to-face, may be just the thing for the really reluctant talker.

By // Kyle Johnson

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