By Kimberly Witt
It’s summer road trip time. What does that mean? Time for some Forced Family Fun! If your teenagers are usually in the backseat with their noses buried in their phones, maybe you can grab their attention with some teen-friendly podcasts. Here are some suggestions that might be worth a listen.
**Some of these podcasts contain language you might not love to hear from your teens. If language is a concern, check for those warnings in the online podcast descriptions and listen to “beeped” versions when they’re available.
Family Podcasts for Road Trips
A tech columnist from The New York Times provides an eye-opening deep dive down the rabbit hole of the internet. You’ll never think about YouTube algorithms in the same way after listening to this. This is a great listen for teens, too, because of the amount of time many spend on devices. These episodes do build on one another, so you’ll need to start at the beginning. After listening to Rabbit Hole, you and your teens might realize you aren’t as in control of your media consumption as you think you are.
With famous hosts Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, and Sean Hayes, this podcast contains light-hearted banter and a peek under the hood of “celebrity life.” Each episode features a different celebrity in casual conversation with the hosts. Many episodes result in belly laughs, with some touching moments, too. These episodes don’t need to be listened to in any particular order. With celebrity guests ranging from LeBron James to Jennifer Aniston, there’s someone for everyone. Find an episode with a celebrity your teen is interested in, and give it a try. For some thought-provoking material, listen to the episode with Michael Lewis.
Is this the best podcast ever created? Probably. Host Jonathan Goldstein’s self-deprecating, perfectly timed quips make every story worth listening to. Jonathan helps his guests return to their past to dig into moments they would like to change. From innocent moments, like an epic bike ride—Jimmy and Mark—to heart-wrenching moments like an addict’s mistake—Scott—each episode is worth a listen. Bonus, these episodes might open up conversations with your teens about your own regrets and give them life lessons they can learn from.
While Malcolm Gladwell might not be everyone’s cup of tea, his episodes of Revisionist History are sometimes reminiscent of Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story.” Do you remember that long-running radio show? Harvey gave us short stories filled with little-known or forgotten facts and surprised us at the end by revealing they were about people and subjects we all thought were familiar. Gladwell, too, offers us unfamiliar perspectives. Teens might especially enjoy getting riled up by “Lord of the Rankings,” an investigative look at the insidious methods used to rank colleges. Fans of The Little Mermaid might also enjoy the three-part series on why Gladwell finds the Disney film problematic. While each season has a general theme, episodes don’t have to be listened to in order.
After checking out “Lord of the Rankings,” try “The Campus Tour Has Been Cancelled” on This American Life to get another behind-the-scenes look at college admissions and standardized testing. Ira Glass’ podcast has been around for decades for good reason: His storytelling and journalism are unmatched. While not every episode will catch the attention of your teens, many will. They might enjoy an entire episode dedicated to stories about life in middle school or an intriguing murder mystery about two doctors with the same name. Because this isn’t a serial podcast, you can pick and choose which episodes you’d like to try.
Slow Burn narrative podcasts give a deep dive into a story from American history. With topics ranging from Watergate to the murders of Biggie and Tupac, each season zooms in on unfamiliar aspects of these stories that go beyond major news headlines. With compelling, easy-to-listen-to episodes, teens who are interested in history will appreciate learning more than they will get in their history classes. Pick a season and start at episode one. Then sit back and enjoy as your road trip miles fly by.
Dr. Laurie Santos, a professor at Yale, hosts this podcast about the science of happiness. With teens everywhere experiencing mental health crises, this podcast has information that may be helpful for teens and parents alike. Each episode stands on its own, and with several seasons to choose from, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. “Making the Grade” and “Good Screens and Bad Screens” both cover topics directly relatable to teens, but many other episodes, including “Why Nostalia Ain’t So Rosy” with Rob Lowe contain great tips and suggestions that may change the way you think about happiness.
This next one comes with a warning: This is a podcast about life in prison and you may find that not every episode is suitable for younger listeners. Older teens, however, might learn something from listening to this sobering examination of the criminal justice system and rehabilitation. (Spoiler alert: Prison life isn’t like it’s shown in the movies.) While the content is often bleak, the podcast also contains glimpses of hope. “Tell Christy I Love Her” is a great example of an episode that does just that.
Want to spend some time learning about something obscure? This podcast lives up to its “-ology” suffix by featuring voices of experts in various fields—from conotoxinology (cone snail venom) to screamology (loud vocalizations). Was your teen obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine when they were younger? Check out the episode on ferroequinology, the study of trains. Or, if your family is digging into your familial roots, try the episode on genealogy.
With so many excellent podcasts to choose from, why not add “download some podcast episodes” to your packing to-do list as you prepare for your summer road trip? If you’re lucky, your teen will listen, too, and you’ll all be introduced to some interesting topics that might (gasp!) result in an actual conversation.
Worst-case scenario, if your teens show no interest, you can enjoy these podcasts yourself. Pop in your earbuds and queue up an episode as you work on cleaning the laundry when you return home and your bags are finally unpacked.