Children, Cell Phones and Car Rides – 6 Suggestions for Establishing Cell Phone Limits and Connecting with your Teen

>When I was a teenager I loved talking on the phone. Who didn’t?

I remember sitting with the corded phone to my ear, watching my favorite soap opera, and talking with my best friend next door who was sitting with her corded phone, watching the same soap opera.

I would spend hours in the evening talking with my friends, tying up the line. In those days, when I called a friend and the phone was busy, I actually got a busy signal and had to call back. No call waiting, no rolling over to voicemail, no other way of reaching the person through text, e-mail, instagram or snap chat.

When I was a teenager, I also loved several after school activities.  Extracurricular programs that required getting in the car and sitting in traffic with my mom (usually) or dad at the wheel.

We would not have to look at each other, only toward the road ahead and this, somehow, gave the intimacy some space and allowed for conversation that would not have flowed so easily outside the car.  I loved that time, and found myself sharing things with my mom who was, as a social worker, trained to listen. I would talk about my day at school, my feelings toward boys, my insecurities.

Fast forward to 2017.

As a mother and social worker like my mom, I have done a lot of driving with my children . The communicating element, however, has been much more challenging than I think it was for my parents.

Why ? It is not because I am less of a good listener.

Listening is more challenging because of text, e-mail, instagram and snap chat.

My kids get in the car and instead of engaging with me, or even with one another, they plug themselves into their phones.

Even when we are carpooling, and they are sitting side by side, they often choose to text rather than talk to one other..

We now have established a few rules of (phone) engagement when we are together in the car. I have found that these rules have helped us get back to actually conversing, which is a valuable skill, and learning more about one another.  Of course, when we take an extended car trip, we may adjust the expectations.

  1. When you are my passenger, there is no texting (good to learn no texting in the car anyway), e-mailing, etc. I expect the courtesy of a conversation with me and with others.
  1. Conversation should include everyone in the car.
  1. It is OK to be silent as long as the phone is not on. Silence can, in fact, be a form of connecting.
  1. What we talk about in the car stays in the car.
  1. It is important for me to share my day and my feelings with my kids. This encourages them to share back and is good modeling.
  1. Car games can be fun. Find ones that your family enjoys. We especially like GHOST (word game) and the Alphabet Game (word identification game).


Hopefully, these tips can help you and your kids learn to appreciate the opportunities offered by traffic jams and long red lights.

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