Podcasts are a little like the party guest who hasn’t known the host forever (that would be print media), but also hasn’t just joined the group (let’s say that guest might be called Shmoo Tube). Podcasts are a bit of a bridge between old and new, building on the foundation of old-school radio while relying on new-school technology for maximum accessibility. To continue the party guest analogy, they’re also more of a known quantity than that newcomer to the gathering. Once you have a sense of a podcast’s tone and approach, you can be pretty confident about what’s being shared — no small task when trying to stay on top of media exposure.
The following are some examples of high-quality podcasts with specific teen appeal. Some address more teen-targeted content, while others have a broader focus. Regardless, they all offer food for thought and potential for further parent-child discussion and exploration.
General interest program 411 Teen has been on air for over 20 years, broadcasts weekly and uses teen input to make the content relevant and interesting for its intended audience. Recent topics have included fake news, undocumented students and a Florida organization for youth who are in or have been in the foster care system.
Many teens and young adults are fans of the TED Talks podcasts. These cover a wide array of subjects and perspectives; this is a “something for everyone” site and the angle tends toward a combination of informative and inspirational. Recent topics have included “Don’t feel sorry for refugees — believe in them” and “A celebration of natural hair.”
Youth Radio is not only for teens, it’s created by teens. The mission of this site is to train future broadcast journalists. Similar in approach to many public radio broadcasts, the content is made up of stories written and produced by teens across the country.
Also recommended by younglings polled, The Moth takes audience participation to a new level. This podcast takes personal stories and records them live. The tales told cover a wide spectrum of experiences; recent offerings have included stories to celebrate Father’s Day, National Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month and National Parks Week. The site welcomes submissions from listeners.
Radiolab is a mashup of science, history, popular culture and more. Its content explores a wide range of interests, but the overall tone is one of an intellectual deep dive — a search for the satisfaction of curiosity-based questioning. In terms of shared listening, getting to the why of a subject can be both satisfying and unity-building.
For the nerds in your life, Nerdette uses popular culture and current headlines to address broader social issues, frequently through interviews with celebrities, such as the recent episode with comedian W. Kamau Bell on social awkwardness and the joys of being a blerd (black nerd).
Food is the great unifier. The Sporkful bills itself as a podcast for eaters — which certainly describes many teens. Even if everything else feels fraught, surely there is peace to be found in learning about competitive eating or an interview with Roald Dahl’s daughter on her dad’s approach to food.
A great umbrella site, How Stuff Works includes BrainStuff (science), Stuff You Missed in History Class, Stuff of Genius (inventions), TechStuff and others. The approach here is like Radiolab, but more specialized by individual topic. You should be able to find a broadcast on just about any area of interest.
If you’re looking for some more straight-up academic enhancement, you could check out Math Mutation, which takes an entertaining approach to its subject and approaches a prescribed element of it in a manageable, lessonlike chunk, typically about 10 to 15 minutes. Grammar Girl and Coffee Break Spanish have a similar format.
Podcasts can also be a way of introducing potentially thorny areas; parents often find that listening together can help to ease into high-stress topics. Therapist Lynn Zakeri says, “If there is a topic that feels difficult to approach, like potential divorce, mental health concerns, drugs, sex... you name it, there is a podcast about it. A parent can say, 'Hey I was listening to this podcast while I was driving and it was interesting what they said. What do you think about that?' Sort of like asking your child to be the expert, and then a discussion can take place.”
One podcast that might be particularly useful here is Teens of America Radio, which looks at timely, often hard-to-tackle subjects like sexting, school violence and suicide. You might also want to check out Project Know's Let’s Talk Drugs, which deals specifically with substance abuse and drug-related questions, and Life as a Teenager, a BBC series that goes through the full adolescent experience, from physical changes to emotional ones.
If you have a long family car ride coming or are simply looking at the summer stretching ahead of you with little neutral conversational territory in sight, podcasts might be a lifeline to co-existence or even, possibly, common ground. Zakeri points out that a podcast can be “a way of bonding if it is funny, and additionally a way to connect later in the day with a joke that relates to it.” And in the scope of parent-teen communication, who couldn’t use an opportunity to connect?
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