Teens are some of the most misunderstood creatures on this earth! Growing up, I had always known I wanted to have children. Babies and children that is – I was absolutely terrified of those ages with “teen” behind them! Now on the precipice of having two of them in my house. Like many other things I’ve been afraid of, teens aren’t as bad as I had imagined. Yes, at times we feel like we’re walking through a minefield, unsure when one might step on an emotional explosive! But there’s also so much beauty and wonder in watching them begin to emerge toward adulthood. A butterfly is not that beautiful when it first emerges wet, and is very fragile, but given a little time, soars into something magnificent.
I recently chaperoned my son’s 8th grade trip to D.C. At home, he’s quiet and responsible, often fooling me that he’s much more grown up than he really is. But in the “wild” with his friends, it was easy to see that they’re still kids at heart.
Most of my struggles with my kids have been from getting out of my own way. Taking things personally, like a bad mood, talking back, or shutting me out. I forget that it’s not about me or my hurt feelings, that’s for me to reconcile. And it’s developmentally appropriate for them to want space to grow. It’s challenging to create someone you love so intensely, only to have learn how to let them go.
By the time they reach the teen years, they’ve already spent more time in your home with you, than what you have left with them, and it’s disappeared so quickly! And worst of all, their friend relationships now seem more important than yours. Don’t let that discourage you from reaching out, this is not the time to pull away and give up. It may take some adjustments but keep pushing to connect with them. These are the years they need you most, when they’re unsure about their changing bodies and hormones are raging into unmanageable emotions. They’re navigating complex relationships and life decisions. All the things we once survived, but now with technology to overwhelm them with information, social media, comparison, fear of missing out, predators, pornography and so much more.
Yes, we need to guide them, but most of the foundation has been laid in the younger years. Now, we need mostly to be curious about who they are and how their life is, without trying to control every part. Connection happens best when you can all let your guard down, cut the screen time and have a little fun! You may be met with an eye roll or some resistance at first, but many times once the activities have begun, the whole family leaves feeling more connected, relaxed, and loved.
Here are some great ways to Connect as a family.
1. Outdoor Activities
Fresh air, sunshine and nature are all so good for the soul! It’s a great opportunity to experience a new environment and connect with the world. It can be something as simple and low cost as a nature walk, or swimming in a pool or you can go bigger visiting am amusement park or water park. Or choose a new skill to develop over time, like rock climbing or learning a new sport together as a family. Whatever you do, make sure it’s fun for everyone and doesn’t feel like work. Make this a time where you leave the parenting at home and make connection and curiosity your priority. Here are some fun things to do outdoors:
a. Walking, hiking, bike rides, rock climbing or going to a local park.
b. Water activities like boating, jet skis, swimming, or fishing. Going to the beach if there’s one near by
c. Visiting local farms for fruit picking or starting your own vegetable garden at home
d. An obstacle course or scavenger hunt
e. Flying a kite or blowing bubbles
f. Disc golf, regular golf, tennis, basketball, or any other friendly competition in sports
g. Amusement or water parks, art festivals, farmers markets or other special events outdoors
2. Indoor Activities
While I understand not everyone loves the outdoors, I do encourage you to find something for the whole family to do outdoor space. The perfect time for these indoor ideas is on a rainy day or during the winter months. Again, they can be as simple and cost effective as playing board games in your living room or if you prefer you can have family fun at an indoor venue like bowling, arcade games, laser tag or an escape room. Here’s a list of ideas:
a. Escape Rooms, Laser Tag, Bowling Alley, Arcade games
b. Family Game Night, new card game. Be careful to choose one suitable for all skill levels, we’re trying to build confidence and connection, not feed our own ego!
c. A home spa day is one of my daughter’s and my favorite way to pamper each other and spend quality time indoors. Occasionally I’ll even let her do my makeup.
d. Have a dance party or create music together… which reminds me of the next list of activities…
3. Creative Activities
This is one of my favorites for family members. Creativity is such an important part of problem solving, invention, and expression. Imagination can also be a great tool in stress relief. Here are some creative fun activities for indoors or out:
a. Create a time capsule to look back on
b. Painting, drawing, sculpting, origami, or photography.
c. Create name art or personalized placements with markers or crayons.
d. Write a story or poem together. Create a Vision Board
e. Flower arranging, knitting, sewing or cooking.
4. Food Activities
Cooking for me is creative, but if you look back in time it’s also a huge part of human connection. That’s why we have business dinners, birthday parties and potlucks. I always joke and say, I first got my husband to fall in love through feeding him. This is a great way to teach important life skills and especially popular when entertaining those hungry teenage boys!
a. Invite your teens to help you in the kitchen, make their favorite food or try something new together.
b. Baking has a sweet reward to follow and teaches precision following a recipe. Last summer we bought an ice cream machine and started developing new flavors or healthier options to try!
c. Take turns picking new restaurants to go to. Life skills learned here could be table manners, dinner conversation or paying for the meal.
d. Or take turns researching the perfect place to have dessert or best coffee shop to visit.
e. The simplest of these and most rewarding is making it a regular habit to eat screen-free family dinners together.
5. Productive Activities
Just because our goal is connection and quality time together, doesn’t mean it can’t be productive. These might be met with a little more resistance from the kids, but they may have the most impact!
a. Cooking, meal planning, and grocery shopping together provides hours of together time, provided you both enjoy this type of experience.
b. Washing the car, cleaning the pool, gardening, or yardwork
c. Volunteering to provide beds, meals or helping at an animal shelter. There are so many in need and it feeds our soul to help others! It also helps our kids realize how blessed they are and sometime express gratitude (although, this is not our goal)
6. Screen Activities
So far the list has encompassed screen-free activities (obviously my preference). But I do understand that sometimes we have less energy for activities and also that occasionally connection needs to start where the child feels more comfortable. I personally have zero interest in video games, but with great curiosity I engage in conversation about his favorite games, because it matters to him. Here is a list of activities that include screens, please note that the list does not include individually sitting on your devices in the same room, as this does nothing for connection.
a. Playing video games together
b. Family Movie Night – watching something together on the tv allows for occasional conversation and a shared experience. Versus the isolation of watching a device on your own.
c. Going to a movie theater
d. Creating videos together
I hope this list has sparked some ideas for activities to promote teen and family connection! As well as ways to improve family mental health. While many of the ideas are aimed at inspiring parents of teens, it’s never too early to start incorporating fun family activities! In fact, things like family dinner and game nights will meet less resistance if the tradition is established while your children are young.
This list should also be brought out every time the kids are out of school for spring break or the summer months when you have more hours to fill. Seasons change, and something that used to be fun may not be any more. Be flexible, be curious, aim for open communication and most of all enjoy yourself, enjoy your teens! The effort you put in today will be rewarded when they are no longer living under your roof. Isn’t it funny that when they’re young and want all of us, we dream of some alone time and when they’re older and pulling away, we long for them to spend time with us!