In the media cocktail party, podcasts are somewhere between the party guest who’s known the host since the dawn of time (that would be print media) and the one who’s just obnoxiously barged into the group (go home, Snapchat). 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.
One of the great things about them, though, is that once you have a sense of a podcast’s tone and approach, you can be pretty confident about what’s being shared — which is no small task when you’re trying to stay on top of your kids’ media exposure.
The following are some examples of high-quality podcasts with serious teen appeal. Some address age-specific content, while others have a broader focus. All of them offer food for thought and the potential for parent-child discussion and exploration. Behold: our list of 10 life-changing podcasts for teens.
1. 411 Teen
General interest program 411 Teen has been on air for more than 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.
2. TED Talks
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 “Four billion years of evolution in six minutes” and “How I’m bringing queer pride to my rural village.”
3. Youth Radio
Youth Radio is not only for teens, it’s also 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.
4. The Moth
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 Pride Month, its 10-year anniversary and stories from their Global Community workshop. 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 Negin Farsad discussing how to combat online trolls.
7. The Sporkful
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 how to read a taco or an interview with Roald Dahl’s daughter on her dad’s approach to food.
8. How Stuff Works
A great umbrella site, How Stuff Works includes BrainStuff (science), Stuff You Missed in History Class, Stuff of Genius (inventions) and TechStuff. The approach here is like Radiolab, but more specialized by individual topic. You should be able to find an episode on just about any area of interest.
9. Math Mutation
If you’re looking for some more straight-up academic enhancement, check out Math Mutation, which takes an entertaining approach to its subject and tackles a small element of it in a manageable, lesson-like chunk, typically about 10 to 15 minutes. Grammar Girl and Coffee Break Spanish have a similar format.
10. Teens of America Radio
Podcasts can also be a way of introducing potentially thorny areas; parents often find that listening together can help 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 up or are simply looking at the summer stretching ahead of you with little neutral conversational territory in sight, podcasts might be a lifeline to coexistence 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?
A version of this article was originally published in June 2017.