If you are the parent of a teenager, then you probably feel nostalgic remembering the times your family spent together when your kids were still small. Family movie nights were something your little ones looked forward to but then, suddenly, almost out of nowhere, your kids were in middle school and high school, and now it seems like you can go days without seeing them!
When Lisa Rice and I did the research for our book For Parents Only, many teenagers told us that as embarrassing as their parents are to them in public, they often feel very differently in private. Yes, it’s hard to pin them down, but what we found is that they generally do want and appreciate family time and they gave us great ideas about how to get teens interested in that again.
A lot of it has to do with the approach. Several teenagers suggested that parents ask their kids what they would like to do with the family in the near future, like two weeks from Saturday. That way, they can plan for a family outing but they’re not being told, “Listen, this is what we are doing on Saturday, and you’re coming with us whether you like it or not, and you’d better have fun, or else!” They know that it’s coming, they know they are expected to join in, but you’re giving them a say in what those plans are in a very non-demanding way, and giving them time to schedule accordingly.
Many of the teens we spoke to said its unrealistic for parents to expect them to want to do totally grown-up things when they’re still just kids. If you think about it, they’re right! It’s unrealistic to expect that a teen will always want to do whatever activity his parents choose, and it’s unfair of parents to get upset if their teen doesn’t get all excited about their plans.
If we want our kids to take an interest in being with the family, we have to be willing to ask for their input, and then have a good attitude about it. It’s only fair, considering how we expect them to go along with our plans without griping about it!
Yes, parents, sometimes that will mean going to the mall and wandering around Hollister with hoards of teenage girls, or trying to look interested while your son walks around the videogame store. Of course, no trip would be complete with listening to loud rock music in the car!
Another interesting suggestion we heard from the teens we surveyed involves Facebook and social networking. If you have a computer, your kids probably use those websites to communicate with their friends. This is a great opportunity to keep tabs on your kids’ online activities and keep them safe — but it’s also a great way to do something they enjoy.
I’ve known many parents who taught themselves how to use Facebook so that they could interact with their kids online. At first, their kids were livid and accused them of spying on them, but when their friends started commenting on what cool parents they had, the mood changed. Before long, they were sitting down together and laughing over the funny comments left by friends on their pages. It was totally different from the old family game night, but it worked! Those parents told me that they learned so many important things about their own children, their friends, and their growing and changing perception of the world that they never would have known otherwise.
So, don’t always expect your kids to connect with you on your level; be willing to meet them on theirs, or agree to meet halfway. I’ll bet you’re pleasantly surprised by the results!