I just read an article about parenting teenagers and how parents and kids drift apart during those years. It’s natural to some extent as teens need to ready themselves to leave the nest, and parents need to ready themselves to let go. But, then I watched a home video of our family on an extended camping trip with our kids when they were 5, 3, and 1. That got me to thinking. We spend so much time with our kids when they are little. We know their every wish and whim and they know ours, as well as our rules and expectations for them. We know this about each other because we take the time to share ourselves with our children and we pay attention when they share with us. As they get older, less of that happens, and the result is that many parents and kids feel estranged from each other during the teen years, just when it’s more important than ever that they stay close. How can we parents stay connected with our kids as they get older and our lives get busier? I think the key remains in our rules, actually. How about forming some rules around availability? Since family time is so scarce in everyone’s crazy schedules, how about if parents look for ways to work “new rules” into their lives as kids get older? While the rules for young kids revolve mostly around safety, these rules would ensure family connections whenever possible. Maybe these new rules won’t make you your child’s new best friend but you’re not supposed to be that, anyway.
How many nights do you eat dinner together as a family? How about a rule that sets a minimum for that and makes attendance mandatory? We were so lucky that our work schedules enabled us to eat dinner together 6 nights each week as the girls were growing up. It made us closer as a family, I’m sure of it.
No other time to chat? How about no cell phones, or headphone use in the car so that when you’re together on wheels, you talk?
What would you add to this list? As teachers, what would you advise the parents of your students about how to stay connected so that the teen years don’t destroy the relationships?
Bedroom TVs: Growing up, none of us ever had a TV in our bedroom, and though it may seem kind of silly, it forced us to watch TV downstairs where our parents were. As a result, we ended up watching together more often than not and developed mutual loves of all kinds of shows. It led to spending more time together and gave us something to talk about during a time in a lot kid lives where they think their parents just don’t get them at all. I think I was more comfortable talking with my mother about Ally McBeal than my hopeless crush on Kyle, but at least we were talking. So, since lots of kids have computers in their rooms, you may just have to make a rule about where they can watch programming.
Regarding the headphones in the car, good luck with that. I think I would’ve been a much happier teenager if I hadn’t had to listen to Buffalo Springfield.
Mom Writes: As I recall, it was Leonard Cohen’s music in the car that would make you guys say, “Open a window, please, I’m jumping out.” The other thing I remember about music in the car is that when we’d put on the radio stations we liked and you guys didn’t you’d use the snow scraper to reach from the back seat to the front to change the station. In the front we’d hear one of you whisper “Get the stick.” That being said, I think listening to each other’s music is a bonding tool, so get over it!
Do things together as a family. Yeah, your teenager will moan about doing it but those are the types of experiences that you remember most later. I remember we went to Italy my senior year in high school and, as spoiled as it sounds, I didn’t want to go. I didn’t understand how beneficial that type of travel is. When we went it was a life-changing experience for me. I realized there were so many other places, cultures, and things to learn about. I think those trips we took were really important because we were constantly working together and spending time together as a family. In the summer we worked in our family business. Because we all worked together we were on the same schedule and spent a lot of time together. Our business was in a resort area so we spent a lot of our downtime together too. Working together put stress on our family at times but it brought us closer together, too. I think when kids get older, parents see their kids changing into adults so it’s hard to feel like you can still do those family things. Your kids have commitments or activities that may differ from what you’d choose so it can be hard. But I think family trips are really important and they end up being the memories that stay with your family forever. So, ignore your sullen teenager, pack up the car, put on your life-changing music that they can’t appreciate, and go do something.
Start a family blog, so you can email your children every day and harass them to write on it about current events and advice. Totally kidding. I think traveling together is really important. We did a lot of it when we were little, and even when we were older and I think it made our family really close – too close some times. We learned a lot about each other and we learned about the world together. Traveling in places you’ve never been before makes you bond with the people you do know and in our case it was each other. We learned to deal with each other’s music on 8-hour car rides, and compromise on what to listen to, some times…I think all the time we spent with each other traveling was a big part of why we are all close and still enjoy traveling with each other. And so what if we have the most miserable video of Alexis when she was dragged on a family vacation? It’s good for a laugh, and look how happy she is now.
Having family dinners without the TV on is a good idea too. I know a lot of families watch TV during dinner, and that might be the only time they’re altogether. If you’re able to get everyone together for dinner, you should probably try talking to each other. It was good for us when we were little because we always had dinner together – even when we were in high school, we almost always had dinner together first, and made plans with our friends afterwards, because we had been having dinner together for so long. It was a good time to learn about what everybody was up to and we saw how much work went into making dinner, and we learned about putting our dishes in the sink – all important skills. You have to do stuff together, even if people pretend they don’t want to. It’s harder to drift apart when you are always hanging together.