Alphabet News

The rise of ‘drivetime dialogue’: families use car journeys to bond

posted on 21/10/2019

Parents spend on average over 5.5 hours per week in the car with their children, and a quarter of parents spend 10 hours or more in the car with their kids, according to new research by Alphabet (GB) Limited, a global provider of Business Mobility.

Car journeys provide a unique space for conversation, away from the distractions of home or school. Parents are using this ‘drivetime dialogue’ to discuss issues affecting their children, from the serious to the strange. Alphabet’s research shows the dialogue focuses on three core issues:

  • Social - School and social life are the most frequent topics of conversation. Parents cover issues around schoolwork and performance and children’s social well-being, with questions about how to handle friendships and bullying
  • Self-esteem - Physical well-being and body image were also a huge topic of conversation for parents and kids. Subjects like exercise, diet and self-confidence were most common, with issues around body image such as appearance, weight, make-up and clothing tackled by nearly a third of all parents  
  • Emotional - A quarter of parents have addressed online health concerns, talking with kids about the time they spend on phones, tablets and computers and the content they access there, as well as mental health issues around anxiety, stress and depression

Talking about these issues can result in some tricky questions from children too. The ones parents found toughest were ‘Where do babies come from?’ (25%) and a range of sex education questions (17%). But no matter the subject, parents took them on:

  • 59% of parents aimed to tackle the question there and then, no matter what the topic
  • 25% of parents thought the best option was to acknowledge the question but find a better time to talk about it later
  • A few questions proved tricky enough for a few parents (8%) to agree to talk later, but secretly hope the question was forgotten about altogether

Dr Richard Woolfson, child psychologist, said of the research: “Family life rarely allows time for open and uninterrupted dialogue between parents and children. So time in the car can be a wonderful opportunity to strengthen the communication channels between parent and child, to build trust and strengthen the emotional bond. But, as the survey shows, children can ask about anything at all, and answering those questions can be very difficult when you’re driving.”

To encourage and handle conversations with children, Dr Woolfson recommends:

  • Show your interest - Get children talking by starting off with day to day topics, for instance about school, or friends, or leisure activities. Open questions such as ‘What made you laugh today?’ encourage conversation
  • Reacting to tricky questions - It’s the unexpected questions – about sex, bullying, death – that can knock you for six. Avoid reacting in a way which might make your child feel embarrassed or silly for voicing their ideas. Tell your child you’re glad they have shared their thoughts with you and offer helpful advice if you can
  • Providing appropriate answers - If you can, give an immediate answer, though pitch your words at the right level for your child’s age and understanding. Resist any temptation to duck the question by telling your child to wait until they are older, however. Kids are very good at knowing when they’re not getting the full picture
  • If you need more time - If you need time to gather your thoughts because the topic is highly sensitive, simply tell your child ‘That’s an excellent question. Let’s talk about it later tonight when we have more time and I can give you my full attention.’ Then set a few minutes aside that evening for you and your child to have that private chat together.

Simon Carr, Chief Commercial Officer for Alphabet (GB) Limited, comments: “Our ‘What Moves Britain’ report has already shown how important the car remains to work life in the UK. The company car is more than just a ‘perk’ or status symbol, for many Brits it is essential to our jobs. This latest research shows how essential these cars and the journeys we make in them can be to family life too. We know how important safety aspects are to parents and families when choosing their next car but how many of us consider the quality of the time we have together in that vehicle? Parents spend lots of time with kids in the car on school runs, driving them on the weekends and entertaining them over half term. With fewer distractions than home, it’s a great place to get kids talking about questions they have or issues affecting them.”

Finally, the research also highlighted some of the more unusual questions that occur while in the car, including:

  • Why haven’t I got a tail?
  • Are trees waterproof?
  • What are those two dogs doing in the park?
  • Why turn left when the satnav said right? 

Research was conducted by Walnut Unlimited, using a nationally representative sample of 2,000 UK adults aged 18 and over.

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