When my children were still children, it was easier to spend quality time with them.
As they grew into teenagers, it has become harder to find time and ideas for teen family activities. Younger children are more dependent and pliable. “Want to go on a walk? No? Well, we’re going anyway.”
As children grow, so do their responsibilities with school and jobs, so they have less time to spend with family. And like it or not, teens prefer their friends to you. This doesn’t mean that you send them off into “teenagedom” and never see them.
Here are ways that you and your teen can still enjoy each other.
Make your home welcoming
Most families cannot afford to dedicate a whole room to their teens, but if you have a space that’s people-friendly with atmosphere, food and games available, parents who are not overseeing too closely (it’s okay to be interested, but do not be overbearing), your home may become the central gathering place. Get to know your teens’ friends.
Get involved in their activities, literally
One dad joined his daughter on their church’s multi-age softball team. They both enjoyed setting goals and sharing in the excitement. Does your teen skateboard? Try it yourself. Just be prepared for laughter and falls. Is your teen’s job walking the dog? Join them. Play video games with your teen. You might like it. At least you’ll know what your teen is talking about.
Pass the potatoes
Mealtime is a great opportunity to spend time together, but work, and activities make it seem impossible. As our children have gotten more involved with their own lives, and I in my outside-the-home job, we’ve gone down that slippery slope of not having supper together around the table. It started out slowly, maybe two meals together a week. Now, it’s deteriorated to eating standing up, sometimes by ourselves. I’m not terribly embarrassed to admit this because other moms have told me the same thing happens in their homes. However, busyness is not unique to this generation. My parents raised nine reasonably well-functioning adults. Both parents worked outside the home. We always cleaned, set the table and sat down together to eat. Today my family does well to eat supper together once a week. But when we do, it is more leisurely, relaxed, fun and conversational than when I was growing up. Make the effort; it is definitely worth it.
Enjoy the great outdoors
Hiking is simple, free and conveniently located in your neighborhood: the Greenbelt, the Townsend bike trail or the most-visited national park in the United States. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has hiking trails for every skill level, from strolling to rugged hiking. And since teens are not too old to look for critters, the fact that it’s also the salamander capital of the world is a bonus. Invite your teen’s friends along, too. You will be with your teen, but since your teen is hanging out with his or her friends, you’re both happy.
Whatever strategy you use to spend time with your kids, bite the bullet. Don’t wait until your teen thinks to include you; take the initiative. Through the years, many of my own interests stagnated. I know, we’re supposed to look after ourselves and stay well rounded, but really, life happens. Between work, church, cleaning, cooking, parenting and collapsing, something has to give, and it’s usually our own hobbies. Teenagers might even be mature enough to enjoy their parents’ hobbies. Let them use your camera to take pictures. Dig out your tennis racket. Or take up a new hobby or sport together. Who knows, it might help you keep fit, too. Ultimate Frisbee, anyone?
Kathleen Christy is head of the Reference Desk at the Blount County Library and mom of three, ages 17, 19 and 22. Her husband is the minister at Clover Hill Presbyterian Church. In her (limited) free time, the mom enjoys learning about photography, rug hooking, graphic design and stain glass art.