The Best Ways to Multitask as a Parent When You’re Behind the Wheel

January 3, 2019

Here are some great ways you can use all that car time for getting closer to your kids.

I’m not a terrible driver. But I’m not a great driver. I’d call myself something like… a conscientious bad driver. I tend to drive too close and too fast (cruise control is my best friend). I’d rather be a passenger.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts looked at the 30% increase in automobile accidents from 2011 to 2016 and estimate that distracted driving from smartphone use accounted for 20% of the rise. Their theory stems from the increase in the number of people who own a smartphone from 2011 to 2016 (52% versus 92%) plus the increase in those who have internet access while driving in that same timeframe (29% versus 77%). Phones definitely play a bigger role in driving than they probably should.

I’ve been known to look at my phone while I’m driving—whether it’s the maps app, switching playlists, or (welp) sending a quick text. I think it’s mostly due to my urge to be 100% productive all the time. So when I have to put on my taxi driver hat, sometimes I don’t quite take off my professional hat. I don’t want to “waste” the time driving.

But does it really have to be a waste of time?

Here are a few suggestions for making your time in the car productive and safe.

Let’s talk

In an interview on The Big Picture, Jonah Hill talks about his directorial debut “Mid 90s,” a film that centers on a group of skateboarding teens. He makes a comment that conversations would get deep when you were sitting around bored with your friends. With cell phones, nobody gets bored anymore.

Turn off the radio or the DVD player. Passengers (and driver), put your phones down and let dialogue fill the space. If you or your kids aren’t used to this, you may need a little help getting started. There are lots of conversation starters designed with parents and kids in mind. And when you’re trapped in the car going to lessons or practice or wherever your day takes you, that’s when you can really get to the heart of what matters to your kids. That’s when it becomes more than just “how was school?”

Learn something new

On his commute to and from work, my dad has started listening to Spanish lessons. For 30 minutes each morning and 30 minutes each afternoon, he listens and repeats Spanish words and phrases. So why not do it on your routine commute shuttling kids around?

When you’re trapped in the car going to lessons or practice or wherever your day takes you, that’s when you can really get to the heart of what matters to your kids.

While this may not work if you have young children in the car, if you’re shuttling teens, you can learn a language together or re-emphasize what they’re already learning in their own language classes.

If a foreign language is a little too much, try listening to an audiobook. It can be your own mini book club to and from gymnastics. Or play trivia. In a work carpool, I was once a part of, we spent our 30-minute drive firing off trivia questions. While this was practice for a weekly trivia game night, trivia can also be a fun way to learn new things together.

Sing, sing, sing

While long road trips are usually where the playlist is important, who says an afternoon running errands doesn’t deserve a great soundtrack?

It’s almost a rite of passage for kids to complain about their parents’ “old people music.” But take the opportunity to introduce your kids to songs of your youth. On various family road trips with their grandma, my kids have learned the words to “Hello, Goodbye” by the Beatles, “Walk On By” by Dionne Warwick, and “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler.

While this method would technically make use of your phone (custom playlists on Apple Music is one of my most favorite modern inventions), you can use music to bring everyone together, not drown out the noise coming from the back seat. And safely inside the confines of your vehicle, you can create singalongs like you’ve created the next Von Trapps or The Osmonds.

In this day and age, families can spend a lot of time together in the car. The Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts actually see a decrease in this trend of increasing car accidents due to anti-crash technology, such as blind spot detection and front crash prevention sensors. But until human-error isn’t a factor in the equation, we’re going to have to follow the rules of the road, hope everyone else will do the same, and just keep singing.

Jessica Eyre has had a clean driving record since 2006. She loves her Dodge Grand Caravan, which she has driven more than 100,000 miles in four years, though not quite enough to keep it very clean. Just one example of her keen ability to pick her battles.

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