Some families find it super easy to spend leisure time with their teens because they all have the same interests and hobbies, such as fishing, diving, skiing, surfing, shopping, cooking or sailing.
Other families – not so much. We’re a tad embarrassed to admit that the idea of a sports game early on a wintery Saturday morning, after a long week, was not our idea of fun and we dissuaded all four of our kids from participation whenever possible. Our bad!
But we did love packing up the car to the gunnels and heading off camping at the beach for weeks on end over summer with lots of mates. We had campfire cooking competitions that involved bread and soufflés (and possibly too much booze!). We survived oyster-shell lacerations, cyclones and broken tents, and had food fights on the mudflats with leftover food – including eggs – at the end of the camp. Our kids learned a lot about survival and having fun!
Finding ways to continue spending time together as your teen begins to sort out who they are (as opposed to who you are or want them to be) can be tricky and will require some creative thought. They may well pull back from family activities they have previously enjoyed. Outing suggestions are met with bored groans, pouting and sulking; the idea of visiting aging relatives appears akin to suggesting water-boarding at Quantanamo Bay.
So be prepared to go outside your comfort zone and try activities they suggest. C’mon, you know you want to go canyoning! If one activity doesn’t pan out, have a good laugh and move on; look for something else. If they love gaming and you love tennis, do a trade: I’ll game with you for a couple of hours this morning if you play tennis with me this arvo. If you’ll be my sous chef tonight, I’ll listen to dubstep with you (even though I’d rather pluck out and eat my own eyeballs!).
If you are scratching round for ideas, there are lots to be found in the book Our Boys – Raising strong, happy sons from boyhood to manhood (Allen & Unwin 2016), including teaching your teen how to legally download material off the internet, going to concerts, checking out ancestry online, trying a new sport, encouraging them to help with renovations/fixing something or cooking meals together. The list goes on and on.
And remember, teens – particularly sprouting boys – love to eat. Offer to pay for nosh somewhere and you’ll likely get the nod. Doesn’t matter if it’s only for 30 mins and you do most of the talking (although best not to use these moments for ‘life lectures’). Make meals device-free zones. Once they stop whinging, they may even enjoy the break. Just try and make sure the craic is good.
But also remember, they are listening and these short moments are gold – your teen isn’t about to tell you, but they still need your love, praise and approval. And they need to know you are a safe harbour – that you have their backs as they traverse the minefield country of establishing themselves as individual, young adults.
The takeaway is – it’s not the amount of time you spend with your teen, it’s the quality.
By Ruth Kerr and Richard Aston, parents to four adult children in a blended family. Ruth and Richard co-authored Our Boys – Raising strong, happy sons from boyhood to manhood based on their 15 years’ experience working at Big Buddy – a social agency that matches well-screened male mentors with fatherless boys.