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Teens in Their Spare Time

Guide Your Teen's Social Patterns By Learning What They Do In their spare time

Have you ever noticed groups of teenagers huddled together at the local mall? What about the teens who gather at the playground and occupy the swings they've long outgrown? It is natural to question their motives or wonder why they're filling an afternoon by strolling aimlessly.

Our teens are at a tough crossroad of life – for some, not yet old enough to drive, have a job or in their words "be taken seriously." Children ages 12 through 15 often find themselves feeling as if they have no place to go. They look for places to "hang out" with friends that offer comfort, privacy and freedom. Oddly enough, they usually fulfill their quest for privacy in public settings.

The desire to spend time, often doing virtually nothing, with friends is overwhelming. It is also often bewildering to parents. While the comforts of home offer numerous amenities, teens still go in search of someplace else to be. When they are at home, teens frequently face the common parental concerns of "All you do is sit and watch TV or listen to music" and "You don't do anything." They feel overly scrutinized, and go in search of a non-judgmental haven. But you can learn to guide your teen's social patterns without him realizing he's being subtly directed or feeling like he's under a microscope.

Operation Invitation

Try giving your teen and his friends an objective to their mission of hanging out. Offer them use of the garage or basement as a "teen scene club" – if they clean it up. Tossing in some lawn chairs, a cooler of soda or juice drinks and bags of munchies gives them a safe place to call their own. Add a portable CD player and video games or stacks of fashion magazines, and you'll probably never pry your teen away from your house again!

It can be beneficial to encourage your teen to hang out with friends at home. Although be advised that they'll probably eat you out of house and home. After you've stocked up on munchies, you can persuade your 14-year-old son and his pals to hang out at home.

Above all, teens want comfort. Remember, a teen's perception of comfort differs greatly from yours. Your idea of comfort may be nice furniture, a clean house, a functional kitchen, etc. His perception of comfort equates to extreme privacy. Although you have the best of intentions when you pop into the room and ask if they need more snacks, teens see your visit as a breach of security. They may be in the midst of contemplating life-altering topics such as who is the cutest girl in eighth grade or how cool the latest song from Slipknot is. Your invasion is not only a security breach, but a reminder that The Rolling Stones and Duran Duran aren't as cool as you used to think! Giving your teenager and his friends a place to safely be themselves will encourage them to spend more time at your house.

If you're inclined to question his need to go to a friend's house to listen to the same music he's listening to at home, "You can have the basement to listen to music" suggests hanging out at home, and that you're willing to provide a forum for your teen to feel comfortable.

What's up With That?

When your teen's hanging out with pals at the mall she's most likely doing nothing visibly worthwhile, but you're not walking the mall in her shoes and with her emotions. Beyond filling up on junk food and visiting the arcades, why would she want to spend an afternoon doing nothing at the mall?

The answer isn't really all that mystifying. Fitting in is monumental to teenagers. Time spent with friends offers the chance to feel part of his or her peers. Grappling with teen issues always seems easier if you're not the only one experiencing them. Teens hanging out together realize their questions about the opposite sex, struggles with geometry and contempt for having a curfew are shared among pals.

Although she can receive nearly the same answer to "Why didn't he ask me to dance?" from you, it usually sounds better coming from a friend's mouth over a mall fruit smoothie. Teens enjoy a sense of escape from the "real world" of homework and household chores and appreciate the wise opinions of their peers on what is "in." They like the independence felt from going to pick out their own new jeans.

My Eye's on You

Entrenched in the quest for ultimate privacy and security, teens may demonstrate suspicious behavior. Albeit some suspicions turn out to be unfounded, parents may find their teen's covert actions less than honorable. There is a simple and time-tested rule of thumb to help you determine if you should spy on him when he's hanging out with friends: If you think something inappropriate is happening, trust your instincts.

According to research conducted by the YMCA and Planned Parenthood, in more than 50 percent of instances of teen sexual activity and 75 percent of teen substance use, parents were suspicious of their child's actions for at least six weeks prior to discovering the action.

Spread Those Wings

Even though he's recognizing his impending adulthood, much to your teen's dismay, he still is a child. You should know where he's going and who he's going with. Allowing some freedom is an important step toward his decision-making ability and independence. Additionally important to his development is an understanding for the importance of respecting the household rules and expectations.

If he's set on going out with a group of friends, make sure he respects your expectations. Since safety is always a concern, he should inform you of significant changes in his destination and should understand the importance of pre-set curfews. Allowing your junior high school child to go to the movies with friends can feel far more auspicious to you than your child. Reiterating basic safety precautions and household rules helps both of you transition to this stage.

Remember that, to your teen, hanging out is the adult version of mingling with co-workers, participating in a book or coffee club or taking an exercise class with a group of friends. We all enjoy social interaction, and a teen's precocious age makes mixing social settings and outings tough. Patiently guiding him to hang out safely – and somewhat productively, at times – will help him further develop his social skills.

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