Spending Quality Time With Your Teen
With our ever increasing busy schedules, it is easy to lose focus on spending quality time with our teenagers. It is important to remember that even though our children are nearing adulthood, they still require parental involvement. Communication breakdown has been cited as a major cause of parent/teen conflict over the years.
A survey conducted in 2000 focused on how families are connecting with their teenagers. The Global Strategy Group interviewed 400 kids nationwide between the ages of 12 and 15 and parents of children in that age group. The good news: Most teens turn to their parents when they find themselves in times of need. The report stated that overall, 78 percent of teenagers rely on parents for advice.
The disappointing aspect of the research was the realization that there are a large number of families who cannot find time to sit together for family meals. One in four parents reports eating four or less meals a week together as a family. Even more disturbing is that 10 percent of the parents interviewed reported that they eat just one meal a week or never eat with their teens.
Mealtime can be a time of re-connection for families, especially for busy teenagers. It can be a great time to ask questions about your child's day without interruption. If given the opportunity to spend a meal together, keep these points in mind:
- Turn off the phone during mealtime to ensure quiet, uninterrupted time.
- Let each child have equal time to talk about their day.
- Don't interrupt them.
- Ask specific questions of your teenager (this tells them you are interested).
- Keep the conversation light; avoid arguing with them at this point.
- Tell them about your day (this tells them you respect their opinions).
- Make mealtime fun.
Other Ways to Spend Time Together
With the demands of work obligations for both teenagers and parents, it is becoming more difficult to spend mealtimes together. If this is a problem in your home, there are other ways to interact with your adolescents and keep connected. Here are some ways to spend quality time:
- Take them with you for a drive. If they are ready to drive, go somewhere and practice with them. If you are driving, this is a great time to open up a conversation.
- Take your teen to a movie that they want to see.
- Go for coffee (or tea) once a week – even for just 30 minutes. This is a great opportunity to find out what is going on with their life.
- Go shopping at their favorite mall.
- Have them help you with a home project: re-papering the bath or painting the kitchen. Teens really do love to help. It makes them feel like you trust them.
- Cook with your teenager. This is a great way to share a meal and teach them to cook. It can be a lot of fun, too.
- Go to a concert or sporting event with your teen.
- Take your teen to work for the day.
- Pitch a tent in the backyard and escape the rest of the family for a night.
- Go for a nature walk or a hike; pack a lunch, a radio and a sense of adventure.
- Make one day per month "all about them" day; let them choose their favorite meal and activity for the day.
- Rent movies and stay up late.
- Go to the music store with them; let them show you what kind of music they like. (Be interested, even if you don't like it!)
- Spend a Saturday morning at the flea market or garage sales. Give them a few bucks and dare them to find the best bargain.
- Volunteer with your teenager. Go to Volunteer Match to find great opportunities to help others in need.
- Plan a monthly "family night" where you play board games, cards or just hang out and watch movies together.
Pastor Jerry Schreur, a marriage and family therapist for more than 30 years in Grand Rapids, Mich., and the author of several parenting books including Fathers and Sons (Victor Books, 1995) and Fathers and Daughters (Victor Books, 1996), describes the characteristics of strong families. "According to a study of 3,000 families, [strong families] spend a quantity of time in which there can be quality experiences and mutual satisfaction," he says.
Bea Sheftel, a mom from Manchester, Conn., recalls how much fun she had with her son when he was a teenager. "He loved to play those TV computer games, Atari and Playstation, so I played the games with him for about an hour after school," she says. "During that time we talked. He told me about school; it was great. He really opened up to me, and I found out the neatest things about his life."
Building a Relationship
Relationships with our children are not built overnight. "We must start early," Schreur says. "And don't give up or lose interest when it becomes increasingly difficult. Although teens may not know how to express their appreciation, they won't forget the special times, especially the one-on-one times that you spent with them."
There are times when we simply can't do it all, but there are other times we choose not to spend time together when we could. The amount of time that kids watch television and spend surfing the Internet is increasing every day. According to the YMCA Parent and Teen Survey Report, more than one-third of all parents interviewed reported that their teens spend the majority of their free time in front of a computer or television screen.
Delores Madison, a single mom from Atlanta, Ga., usually gets home an hour and a half after her kids. "When I get home, we prepare dinner together, and they sit around and tell me about their day," she says. "We always eat dinner together – not always at the table – but always together. Some day, when I am not being an old lady, I might watch MTV with them or even listen to rap music."
Obviously, we all have certain obligations that we feel the need to fulfill every day. The problem often stems from prioritizing these necessary duties. In order to find more time to spend together with your teenager, it may be necessary to review the way you spend your time.
Making the relationship with your teenager your top priority may take some changes. In the long run, the decision to alter your daily routine will become more natural. Small changes in how you use your time can have a huge impact on how available you are to your children.
"We need to begin, right now, at this very moment to see each second as a gift, as an opportunity to savor where we all are now – whether we do this by playing, chatting or simply being together with our children," says Elizabeth Pantley, author of Perfect Parenting, Kid Cooperation: How to Stop Yelling, Nagging and Pleading and Get Kids to Cooperate (New Harbinger Publications, 1998) and Hidden Messages: What Our Words and Actions Are Really Telling Our Children (McGraw-Hill, 2000).
Without quantity of time there cannot be quality time. There has to be a give and take in order to find time to spend together as a family. Ultimately teenagers won't show their appreciation as much now as we would like, but the memories of time spent together will resonate within them for years to come.