by Meredith Flory


was a little late to the podcast game.  While audioblogging as entertainment has been around for a very long time, most sources agree that podcasting in its current form became popular in the mid-2000s due to smartphones.  I, however, didn’t begin to listen to podcasts regularly until last year.  My spouse was at work one day and I wanted some company as I cleaned the house.  So, I decided to download some recommended podcasts on my iPad.  I was hooked!

Podcasts provide ways to learn more, think about ideas and hear from favorite personalities while navigating their days.  One week this spring I was dealing with a sore throat and my kids wanted bedtime stories, so I decided to find a podcast to do the job for me.  A thought quickly occurred to me — why not incorporate more podcasts into my regular time spent with the kids?  So, I began to collect suggestions from different sources on family friendly podcasts, and I spent the better part of June listening to them.

For this column, I focused on four specific criteria and found several quality podcasts that worked to encourage reading and educational activities at home.  I want to share those with you in two parts.  This month focuses on listening with your pre-teen or teen and next month I will focus on younger children.

My guideline includes only those shows that are currently ongoing during this publication. I also decided to focus on podcasts that have stand-alone episodes rather than continuing stories.  Even though some families may enjoy the nostalgic feel of ongoing radio dramas— and there are many quality ones out there — the stand-alone episodes allow listeners to jump in with ease as time and circumstances allow.

Additonally, everything on these lists is “family friendly” meaning that I did not find any explicit content during the segments I heard.  I avoided shows that deal regularly with religion or politics as I wanted to focus on topics that all my readers could enjoy.  However, this does not mean that all would be appropriate for your family or children.  For several, specifically the teen ones, I would encourage you to read the descriptions and listen to them ahead of time.

Lastly, I have listed podcasts that are free and available on major podcasts apps.

Learning Together: Stuff You Missed in History Class is now one of my evening favorites.  It’s been a podcast production of How Stuff Works for a long time, with changes to the format and hosts.  The two current hosts are delightful, and give any warnings if the material is sensitive, as they tell stories of lesser known historical figures and events.  Episodes are roughly 25 minutes long.  Topics range from whimsical histories, to sensitive retellings of disasters, to fascinating accounts of lesser known historical figures.

Spooky and Scary: I was a kid that loved hiding under my comforter with a flashlight reading R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike and later Stephen King.  While I no longer have quite the thirst for scary stories, from time to time I appreciate a good fright.  Spooky podcasts that are appropriate for younger listeners are hard to come by, and I tried several that were too gruesome for me to suggest.  I did, however, come across two that would work for a family.  First, Aaron Mahnke’s Lore is a fascinating look at how “sometimes truth is more frightening than fiction” with historical accounts of the supernatural, weird creatures, villainous mysteries and more.  Additionally, The Oddcast: Tales of the Occult, Weird, and Arcane is a collection of famous thrillers from authors such as Lovecraft, Wells, and Poe told with excellent narration, music and sound effects. 

Building Empathy: When I first started listening to podcasts, I was thrilled to find I could listen to my favorite NPR shows like Snap Judgment and This American Life instead of hoping to catch them aired live in the car.  While subjects vary, these shows each give warnings for sensitive content and their human interest stories are insightful.  The podcast version of This American Life is marked explicit due to unfiltered language from many of the interviewees, but edited versions are available online.  Many of the stories that uncover unique viewpoints, important Americana and examples of injustice may be worth the sensitive content for teens.  Likewise, Snap Judgment weaves tales live or recorded depending on the episodes as they cross between heartbreaking and serious to funny and quirky content, and all are thought-provoking.

Conversation Starters: Still Buffering is a gem of a show that was suggested to me on social media.  The show is a conversation between three sisters: Sydnee McElroy, Teylor Smirl and Rileigh Smirl.  The McElroy family is responsible for several podcasts and other media, and here big sisters Sydnee and Teylor give advice to Rileigh and talk about the differences in teenage life between their respective generations.  There are guest stars on occasion.  Episodes are titled and themed by a “how-to” covering everything from the mundane of shopping malls to an episode on the awkwardness of “the talk” in health class, modeling positive conversations between family members. 

One of their guests in the past year is also the co-host of my final suggestion, the well-known YouTuber and author Hank Green.  Along with his brother John, a prolific author of Young Adult fiction, this second set of siblings has been posting quality content since the fledgling days of internet fame.  Their “dubious advice” show, Dear Hank and John, takes questions from fan emails and answers them with brotherly hijinks and hilarity.  This would be a great way for a parent and teen to share a laugh in the car, and perhaps read together one of the brothers’ best-selling novels.  Hank’s An Absolutely Remarkable Thing (2018) and John’s Turtles all the Way Down (2017) were two of my favorite YA reads last year.

This article appears in the September/October 2019 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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