Family Fun Activities
Preteens are a delightful mixture of adulthood and childhood. At times, they cling to family. At other times, they are fiercely independent. Remember when they were small? They were up for any kind of family activity just because everyone was together. Things change! Now their agreeability often depends on the activity.
Eileen Kennedy-Moore, clinical psychologist and author of What About Me? Twelve Ways to Get Your Parents' Attention Without Hitting Your Sister (Parenting Press, 2005), says this is very typical for preteens. "Preteens are often excruciatingly self-conscious, and this can extend to self-consciousness about their families," she says. "Their growing sense of self is fragile, so a pimple, a bad haircut, a poor grade, a mother who wears the wrong kind of jeans or a father who snorts when he laughs can feel unbearable."
No wonder family activities are a mixed bag for them! But on the plus side, Kennedy-Moore says that preteens still need their parents, and family activities can be a wonderful time for bonding. "At the same time they seem to be pulling away from their families, preteens also desperately need the support and security of their families, who love them no matter what," she says. "Family activities can be a wonderful way of reinforcing a sense of acceptance and belonging for preteens."
Plan the Perfect Activity
Finding family activities that your preteen will enjoy may take a little planning. Kennedy-Moore gives the following tips for planning activities that won't make preteens roll their eyes:
- A great strategy for involving preteens in family activities is to allow them to invite a friend to come along, or better yet, the friend's entire family. In the company of a friend, your preteen is likely to be at his or her cheerful best. If the friend's family can come as well, it makes enjoying being with family members seem "normal."
- Another good strategy is to let your preteen have some say in planning the family activity. As with younger children, offer limited choices between several acceptable options. Let your preteen decide whether the family should go skating or bowling. If you're going out to eat, let your preteen choose whether to go to the Mexican or the Italian restaurant. If you're having a family game night, let your preteen pick the game or decide teams.
- Whenever possible, consult your preteen before scheduling a family event to make sure he or she hasn't made other plans for that time. If your preteen has to give up a favorite activity for a family event, he or she is likely to be sullen and uncooperative.
- Sometimes brief family activities work better than longer, more complicated ones, because they involve less pressure and lower expectations on everyone's part.
- Try to plan family activities that fit with your preteen's interests.
- After the event, avoid saying, "See? Wasn't that fun? I told you you'd enjoy yourself!" On principle, your preteen is likely to respond, "It wasn't THAT fun!" and to resist the next family activity.
Fun for Free
Though favored preteen family activities such as bowling, laser tag and going to the movies all seem to cost money, there are some fun ones that won't cost anything at all. Susan Smith Kuczmarski, Ed.D., teen advocate and author of Flight of the Teenager: A Parent's Guide to Stepping Back and Letting Go (Bookends Publishing, 2004), believes that many family-based activities can be open-ended with a lot of room for positive communication. One of her favorites is painting murals together.
"Try the blank canvas project," Smith Kuczmarski says. "It involves the entire family painting together on a single canvas with each member selecting a portion of it. Do this once a year and be sure to date it!"
She also recommends hooking up with nature creatively. "Our family has an annual frog race," Smith Kuczmarski says. "We've discovered that when you blow gently on the frog's back end, it will leap. You can't pick up or touch the frog with your hands (or feet) at any point in the race. Every entrant must receive a prize. Have your preteen pick them out!"
Preteens can be really fussy about what they do, but they are also a lot of fun. The following activities are surefire preteen winners ... most of the time:
- Poker Night. Invest in a real poker set and a good rules book. They can be used over and over again and add a lot to the atmosphere. Make traditional poker food such as sub sandwiches and other finger food. Serve root beer floats. It will be an evening they will never forget and may even become a family tradition.
- Movie Night. Preteens love going to the movies, even with their families. Discount movie theaters abound, so it doesn't have to be a huge bite out of the family budget – especially if you avoid the snack counter!
- Laser tag, paintball or airsoft guns. Preteen boys especially love this one! Take a picnic and make a day of it.
- Ice skating or roller skating. Remember to avoid Friday nights for these activities. This is traditionally "teen" time, and your preteens may feel weird about being there with their parents. Saturday and Sundays are generally better family times.