One of the only times left today in our busy world for families to spend alone in close proximity with each other is in the car. Now that families eat out more and kids are being rushed from one practice to the other, traveling to school, games or activities.

My family also often take a 13 hour trp one way to Grandma's in the car. My kids and I spends more time together than I ever did as a youth with my Father including nightly meals.

But cars are not conducive to heavy discussions. While often my wife and I use this time to get caught back up to, what is happening in each others world; this generally has not been the case for the kids. Rather than bonding its time, it has either been a time to bicker or ignore each other for the girls (girls 11 and 16). Fighting, or stopping a fight,especially in a car while driving is probably one of the most distracting dangerous things you can do. We have a strict, no fighting in the car rule. I often say, "Unless it litterally is worth dying for…I do not want to hear it."Like many our family car is an SUV. It is now equipped with a plethora of mobile electronic devices that would make the early James Bond's car seem boring. Judging from the small screen DVD players, cell phone conversations, game boxes, and I-pod you see on the road, ignoring each other seem to be the alternative many families choose.
So in the past year I invented a game we call "the imagination game". The rules of the game, as we play it is every body has a chance to think of a topic they would like to hear the others imaginary story about. Then everybody listens to the story until it is finished. And then someone else's turn to either tell a story of the same topic or think up a new topic an asks someone else to go.

The girls love it. The oldest girl ups up and shares her feelings…something I think is pretty amazing for a 16 year old. And the youngest loves having the floor and chance to ham it up. It has probably changed my relationship with her the most. Because, like her Dad, she is a severe introvert. This allows her to express herself like an actor, or artist with a layer of protective detachment. But also because she now looks for chances to go to the hardware store or other trips just with me, so we can play.

I try to draw from my childhood daydreams and works of art for my topics. Some typical topics may be:If any book you read came to life what would it be? Which character would you be and which character would the rest of the family be?
If you could invent anything what would it do and how would it change the world?

If you dug a hole in the back yard and found something amazing what would it be and how did it get there?

If you could buy anything what would it be and what would you do with it?

What movie would you like to be real? What character would you like to be?


Jim Sogi adds:

JSI found one of the best times to talk with the kids (when they were kids) was while driving in the car. They had a long commute to school. When the other kids in the car pool were in the car, they chatted away, and I got to hear about everything going on. Its a good non-confrontational situation since you are not looking at them, so they don't feel on the the spot and tend to open up more. It was a good time to raise things away from the rest of the family as well. The gadgets in the car might tend to discourage this nice talk time.

Jeff Watson remarks:

MotuMy son and I always had an agreement that he could decorate his room anyway he wanted from kindergarten on. He had a rather eclectic style of decorating, and his room (in surf-rat style) still reflects who he really is, not the Classics Scholar he wants the world to see. We always had an agreement that I'd come into his room every day, ignore the putrid mess, and we could have any discussion and he would have total immunity for anything he divulged. I heard a lot of things, but as my word is my bond, never punished him for any transgressions he revealed. Ultimately, the real lesson he learned was that he could trust me, that I was on his side, and it's better to be a good citizen than an outlaw. Since we live at the beach, he's run into many eclectic characters, has had to grow up early, and has seen many things that might not be age-appropriate. I've always played the role of "Ward Cleaver," and have provided guidance without hovering, but encouraged him to make his own rational choices. The result of our laissez faire parenting is that my son will tell me anything, won't lie to me, and will make and listen to rational analysis. I'm willing to let him go off on tangents (with a rope in hand to bring him back to earth), and I provide a safety net, so he has security which will give him courage to spread his wings and fly. So far, so good, but he's 21 and as a parent I will still worry about him until he's 80.

Jeff Watson, surfer, speculator, poker player and art connoisseur, blogs as MasterOfTheUniverse.

Jim Lackey writes:

LackMr. Jim, we all talk to kids on the way home from school or best, after sports practice when they can think without emotion. Long drives are greater than 3 hours but less than 8 hours or 500 miles. Brutal drives are 8-13 and 14 and over hours is pure torture. My brother and I call it "seeing fireflys".

The imaginary game sounds cool. We have a million BMX/MX miles and the 500 mile 8 hour drives are good for books on tape.That Turkey day Thunder run to Fla to see family, 13 hours, my wife had fun with "Sundays at Tiffany".  I said OMGauche a romance novel Jenn? It was, weird… an imaginary friend comes back to romance her.

One trip the BMX kids groaned one AM when I plugged in a murder mystery. "What is this, a book? No!…Let's listen to music!" The next rest area/stop the kids ran back to the van to listen. One trip a book had 30 minutes to go and everyone wanted to hear the end of the book before race practice. I've also used "cliff notes" books on tape for those Victorian classics that I would never read. We are talking Pride and Prejudice here. Which reminds me, my 8 year old girl is on Dickens. Last night after dinner she mentioned England, living in London. Yet our discussion was cut short with that pesky tech…1$ redbox movie the TV and DVD player and Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs. Cute story. The kids read the book. Only thing I got out of it was, "See, she is playing dumb blonde" which is one of my pet peeves and I tell my girls to "please never play dumb blonde." Yet do practice your southern drawl and lay it on thick during negotiations. Which was another spec list meal for a lifetime we learned here. Wish I had the ability.





Speak your mind

4 Comments so far

  1. Leon Mayeri on January 8, 2010 2:31 am

    Our 14 year old son has propelled into his own world these past few years, yet he is remarkably capable of opening his window to us in the late evenings. He is sincere and genuine during this window, and gives us updates on his inner life, while he candidly craves dialogue, advice and interaction. The rest of the day is not so easy. He closes down, is defensive, and deals with his inner struggle at high school without asking for advice or even thinking that we can listen or understand. But the late evenings reveal an entirely different character. This is an optimal time because your teenager will likely choose late evenings, just prior to bedtime, to open up to you and advance the flow of conversation to stimulating levels.

    Michael Riera, who writes commandingly about rearing teenagers, suggests that parents exploit this late evening opportunity to confide, to interact, and to provide for their young adults. One parent who realized this opportunity even went so far as to go to bed early and set her alarm for 11:30 pm so she could get up and talk to her teenage daughter in a manner that was not attainable at any other time of the day.

    Know the window, exploit it, and abide by it. You and your teenage children will be wiser for it.

  2. Steve Leslie on January 8, 2010 8:56 am

    Here is an idea. You want to communicate with your children or grandchildren. Turn off the radio, the computer, the cell phones text messaging and DVD and start talking.

    Some ideas,

    Play a variation of cash cab or jeopardy or trivial pursuit bring a board game with you. Ask them questions,

    5 states share the first letter of the state capital and the state name. Name them. for example Albany and New York do not.

    Start East to West and Name the state capitals.

    Name all 32 teams in the NFL. NBA, MLB. European Soccer League.

    Discuss music with them. What are they listening to take an interest in their music. Have them teach you the lyrics to their favorite song. Ask them what their favorite movies and describe it in detail. Ask them who their favorite actors and actresses are.

    Take two children and pick a subject. Such as legalization of marijuana. Ask one child to take the pro, the other to take the con. Make them argue their case to you the arbiter. The winner gets a stipend.

    In Summary communication is the key. Draw them out in the open get them to be comfortable in talking with you. You will be amazed as to the results

  3. Tutor on January 9, 2010 11:13 pm

    I’ve been saying this for years! When my kids were younger, I used to mention that I felt that since my kids were pretty much ‘prisoners’ in the car, I would take advantage of the situation. My approach was not to engage in conversation per say, rather, I used these opportunitites to teach them. We would play word games, have spelling contests, tell jokes (which is a form of lateral thinking), and make up funny stories (which involves many language skills).

  4. david higgs on January 10, 2010 8:46 pm

    One thing about teenagers is they like to eat. Get them all into the kitchen and prepare a five course meal. And if they talk with their mouths full, don't b!tch about it.


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