This is an observation, not a criticism. In the decade I have spent on the parenthood trail, podcasts have gone from strange audio delicacy to the first thing I check each morning. I used to know what days my favorite shows were on television. Nowadays, I know the day and time my preferred podcast will show up in my download feed. It’s a medium that has grown up alongside my kiddos. This past summer, my girls and I built our own audio studio in our house. We plan to experiment with audio storytelling ourselves. We listen to podcasts, argue about podcasts, and spend many, many more hours listening to them than we spend in front of the television.
This dabbling in audio arts started me thinking about how podcasts affect my parenting. If I am spending more time listening than I am reading, what am I learning? Also, I don’t really listen to parenting podcasts anymore. When I had very small humans, I was an avid consumer of child rearing advice. These days I am more concerned with how to help my munchkins navigate the increasingly complicated world. I listen to podcasts that help me understand what is happening, since I hope I will be able to give them the tools to manage it themselves. What have I learned from my countless hours of podcast consumption that help me be a better parent?
Lesson One: People Like What They Like
I first heard the Judge John Hodgman podcast in 2012 when a friend of mine appeared as a defendant. This podcast resolves real disputes between friends and family members who argue their cases before the writer and comedian John Hodgman. I immediately enjoyed the nerd comedy, but what kept me coming back was the core message of tolerance. People like what they like. This is the main tenet of Judge John Hodgman’s fake court of internet justice. I now realize it has also become my greatest parenting rule. Everything I try to teach my kids about how to get along in the world comes down to the basic understanding that we need to know our own hearts. We need to know what we like. And then we need to know that what other people like is no better or worse than our own passions.
For example, I do not like peppers. My husband does. We need to find ways to live and eat together while respecting each other’s preferences without prejudice. At least once a week for the past several years, I have told my children, “People like what they like,” as my final word on a dispute. This simple idea forces tolerance to be a core value in how our family treats each other and relates to our larger community.
Lesson Two: The Truth Is In The Telling
Like many podcast listeners, I was entranced by Serial. The first season had me glued to my earbuds. But while the true crime and investigation were exciting, what kept me listening was trying to understand how the story unfolded. This was not straightforward reporting. It was a journey through ideas, theories, mistakes, and discoveries. How the writers and producers chose to present and tell the story was crucial to how I understood it. Being able to see the structure of the story allows me to question bias.
Podcasting has become the medium of choice for storytelling. From the blockbuster hits of This American Life and S-town, to lower key offerings like Revisionist History or Snap Judgement, podcasts are an intimate format that makes stories feel immediate. They can also encourage us to consider how stories and told – and by whom. With my kids, I take this lesson and push them to examine the point of view of every story, real or fictional, and to think about how a perspective change can alter what we see as truth. Podcasts make me think about how stories are told, and then I make my kids think about the power of the storyteller.
Lesson Three: Explore the World
We are a family of immigrants. Sure, we’re from Canada, but as a million internet memes point out, there are significant (and sometimes hilarious) cultural differences between where we are and where we came from. Unlike some other mediums (television, I’m looking at you), podcasts have no international licensing regulations. My Canadian podcasts are a welcome taste of home. My children take virtual Canadian vacations on Road Trip Radio, laugh along with Canadian sketch comedy on The Irrelevant Show and listen to news from a Canadian perspective on various CBC podcasts. This is audio comfort food for when we miss our homeland.
But podcasts take us far beyond the nostalgia of the old country. International podcasts mean we can listen to satire shows from Great Britain, cooking shows from Australia, and storytelling from the Middle East. The only limit is my own time and making the effort to look past the big-name shows. I am using podcast to build my second language skills – and try to slowly add more languages to my brain. With children – and budgets – travel isn’t always possible. But with an internet connection and a set of headphones, I can go anywhere. I want to build this global curiosity in my kids. Podcasts are a great way to feed the appetite to discover the world.
Speaking Up Together
Now that we have set up our audio recording center, my kids and I are experimenting with our own voices. The final lesson I take home from podcasts as a listener is that we need to express ourselves in our own voices. This winter, we will keep talking, recording and listening. This is a great medium for reflection – as well as for the best fart jokes a seven-year-old can conjure. I am eager to hear what we have to say. I wonder what I will learn from the stories my kids choose to tell.