If you’re stuck at home self-isolating with teens, you may be ready to rip your hair out right about now. Because in between all that Zoom school work, you trying to get your own shit done, and teens generally having the attention spans of goldfish, it’s easy to want to call it a day and let them zone out staring into their screens for, well, the entire day. But wait! There’s one mode of teen entertainment that involves listening rather than screen-staring: Podcasts.
Podcasts are a great way for parents and teens to connect as they socially distance…if you can pry the Air Pods out of their hands, that is. But hey, I’ve got four teens at the moment, and two kids working their way towards adolescence as we speak. So when my editor asked me to write about the best podcasts out there for teens, I thought, no problem!
But then I asked my two teen daughters what podcasts they like. “Mom,” my 16-year-old said, “you know teenagers don’t listen to podcasts, right?” Oof.
My 18-year-old, however, is a podcast fan. She offered up some themes — and some advice: “Murder is good,” she said. “Paranormal stuff. Sex advice. Don’t write about podcasts teens expect their parents to recommend for them.” Point duly noted.
So, if you’re hoping for a carefully vetted list to please helicopter parents and all the Karens and Beckys of the mom world, well, this will not be that list. It will, however, be a list of podcasts approved by actual, real-life, breathing, Tik Tok-ing, media-ingesting teens. So share this mildly controversial list at your own peril. You might want to vet the podcasts first; you might not. It’s up to you. My daughter and I, for instance, listen to My Favorite Murder together, and we’re hooked. And my son (age 14) is my favorite person to listen to ghost story podcasts with during late-night soccer drives.
Any podcast can be a springboard for great discussion between you and your teen, if that’s what you’re after — you just have to put one on in the car (trapping your child on a 70-mph highway ride is totally fair play) and take it from there. Who knows? You may discover you both have a penchant for solving cold cases…or that your child’s been dying to talk to you about polyamory or bullying.
Whatever the case: Be cool. Relax. Things are a lot weirder and more explicit on Tik Tok. The podcast world is pretty tame in comparison. Just have fun learning about new podcasts with your teen — and don’t take it too seriously. Not everything has to be a learning moment, mkay? Trust me on this: today’s teens cringe at afterschool-special wisdom imparted a little too earnestly from adults. Let them be snarky kids — and let them pick the podcast topics that interest them. You might be surprised how much you learn about your young adult by simply going along for the ride and embracing the irreverence they’re naturally drawn to in all things media.
Lifelong fans of true crime stories Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark swap fave tales of murder and heroism, as well as talk candidly about mental health and the importance of trusting your gut as a young woman. The two are funny as hell and have grown a massive following over the past few years. If you’re allergic to a few f-bombs, steer clear, but if you and your teen don’t mind a little crass talk, these women are the epitome of true friendship and a lifelong dream come true. Trust my Sophie and me: Despite the unlikely subject matter, these two are a romp.
2. TED Talks
The TED Talks podcasts have become perennials. You can count on there being a topic for everyone, like, “Four billion years of evolution in six minutes” and “How I’m bringing queer pride to my rural village.”
Stuff You Should Know is just that: stuff everybody should know, served up by Josh and Chuck in the most entertaining fashion. Recent topics? Satanism, the Iowa caucuses, LSD, chaos theory, Rosa Parks, and…yes…more true crime.
Billed as the “world’s most dangerous morning show,” The Breakfast Club features DJ Envy, Angela Yee, and Charlamagne Tha God tackling pop culture and political madness, especially blowups related to race and diversity. For instance, the crew recently opened up a dialogue after listeners were upset with Nicki Minaj for referencing Rosa Parks in her new song. They explore what’s sensitive in terms of race — and what’s definitely insensitive. Good stuff for teens — and parents — who are determined to stay woke and keep learning.
Little-known history comes alive three times a week in this fascinating, comprehensive podcast from the people at HowStuffWorks. You don’t need to be a history buff to get hooked, but if you’re not, you might become one after a few episodes. With a focus on weird events, overlooked stories, and underrepresented groups, this popular series is educational, too.
What’s Good Games is an informative, funny weekly podcast all about video games. The three hosts (who happen to be female) have great chemistry and demonstrate clear expertise on the biggest games on the market. The (very long) episodes cover news, listener questions, and personal experiences playing games. But keep in mind: While the podcast itself is OK for teens, some of the games they discuss are very mature.
Oh, like you’ve never wanted to know who would win in a battle to the death between, say, Loki and Darth Maul? Well, if you have a comic book lover or sci-fi fan, you can bet they’ve pondered such deep questions. These feisty debates are scientifically researched — and super fun to listen to.
This is pure cringeworthy comedy gold: Mortified is a storytelling podcast in which adults share the most humiliating things they created as kids and teens — we’re talking those old “Dear Diary” entries, love letters, song lyrics, you name it — with complete and utter strangers. Teens can obviously relate, and there’s a certain amount of schadenfreude, listening to their elders talk about mortifying themselves at bible camp and prom. Bonus: Almost guaranteed to spark conversation about your most humiliating teenage moments, so get some old tales polished up and ready to roll.
A funny podcast for teens full of interviews that will surely remind them that they are not the only ones walking around this planet feeling like a complete freak.
10. Teen Girl Talk
Run by two hilarious sisters, Franklin and Susie Cota, this is a safe space for any teen girl. Reality show talk, teen topics, you name it — it’s all fair game here, like a sleepover minus the sleeping bag and toothbrush.
Spooked revels in firsthand accounts of the paranormal, told by souls who have experienced them — and still “can’t believe” what’s happened. Addictively creepy, especially for teens.
Runners-up, suggested by our readers? Try: Night Vale; Casefile: True Crime; Conversations With People Who Hate Me; TryPod with the Try Guys; TED Radio Hour; Hardcore History With Dan Carlin; MuggleCast; Adventure Zone; My Brother, My Brother, and Me; and Six Minutes, a mystery podcast — all sworn to be hits with teens and tweens.
A version of this article was originally published in June 2017.
Here are some more inventive ways to keep kids busy during school closures.