by Susan Sachs Lipman
As the author of a book on Slow Parenting, parents often ask me if it’s too late to connect or re-connect with their teens. The good news? It’s not. If you’ve already established some nice routines and favorite activities, this can be a great time to continue or adjust them. Even if you don’t have the connection you would like with your teenager, it’s not too late to forge one.
Make some time for low-key, side-by-side sharing
The older kids get, the more they seem to respond to side-by-side (versus face-to-face) communication with parents. The pressure is lower; it can seem less interrogative and more relaxed. Try to provide activities that older kids might like to do with you, perhaps an activity they’ve enjoyed in the past that would still be pleasurable, like baking bread, planting seeds, doing puzzles, or tossing a football. (And, sometimes, the less planning and preamble, the better. Just present or begin an activity, and kids will likely join in.)
Sharing can also happen during a walk around the neighborhood after dinner, or at another time when it doesn’t interfere with your children’s increasingly busy social lives or other activities. Perhaps, take a drive somewhere pretty or unusual, to run errands, or have a meal out together. Sometimes we’re afraid to re-introduce quiet activities with our older kids, when at the same time they might actually (secretly) welcome them. Our older kids often still need to talk to us. The sharing might just happen in a different way than before. We might have to be patient, provide some space, and let it unfold.
Stay up to chat on their schedules
Many older kids are energized at night, especially after coming home from a social outing. Sometimes their guard is down, too. This can be a warm time to check in, see how they’re really doing, and hear about their peer group. Try to stay up to greet them when they come back into the house.
Listen more than you talk
This is a challenge for many parents. We want to lecture. We want to teach from our experience. Our kids may have a lot to tell us, but even the chattiest among them will likely clam up if we seem judgmental, or interrupt with lots of suggestions, instructions and rules. Try to resist the urge to turn their tales into “teachable moments”. There is time for low-key teaching and even flat-out life-skills instruction. Driving or cooking, for instance, provide occasions to teach by demonstration, instead of more directly, and this technique might feel less threatening to some kids and make them more open to learning from you.
Get out in nature
Homework and school, college admissions, peer pressure, and social, emotional and physical changes put a lot of stress on teens. Nature can provide a temporary escape from stress and a reminder of the world’s beauty and wonder. Often people feel expansive in nature and share things they might not otherwise. Even if not, time in nature together can provide a much-needed break for relaxation, contemplation or silent companionship. If you can get your teen to completely “unplug” while in nature, all the better.
Switch it up
Maybe there are activities you didn’t get around to when your kids were younger. Why not try them now? Older kids might like ice skating, going to certain museum shows, shopping for vintage clothes, or going to sports events. Have a budding photographer? Gather some peers and head to a city or other photogenic place. Have people split off in pairs or teams (allowing your older child some independence). Regroup at a pre-determined time and, later, have a fun slide show to see the different photos people took.
Have some goofy fun
Teens still want to be silly sometimes and even have fun with you. They just might not want to do it in the same way they did when they were younger. Try some things that allow them time with their peers, too. One successful activity at our house was a potato chip taste-off, during which our daughter and her friends tasted different chips and rated their favorites. The idea was a little unusual, and everyone enjoyed being a food critic. That said, some kids might find comfort in their favorite childhood games or activities, and might enjoy showing them to new friends.
Carve time to have meals together
Sometimes meal times are the only times parents and older kids get together. Even if the meal consists of a quick bite between organized activities, the time spent together is vital for retaining family togetherness. Even if they don’t often result in deep discussion, mealtimes can provide time for light check-ins and bonding.
Assess the schedule
Some teens are simply too busy for their own and their family’s health. Just as many opportunities for young children are not the last chance they’ll have to try things, many activities for older children don’t have to be pursued to the bitter end. If soccer or dance are no longer working, and are taking an inordinate amount of time or adding to the family’s stress level, it may be time to drop the activity in favor of much needed down time.
Ask your teen’s opinion
During the holidays, school breaks, weekends, or other times when your family enjoys down time or special traditions, ask your teens what they’d like to do. Their answers might surprise you. One friend’s daughter revealed that she wanted to learn her mom’s shortbread cookie recipe before she went away to college, and the two made the recipe together. Another mom asked her sons which traditions they wanted to keep enjoying, and was surprised and moved by their answers. It can be very enlightening to learn what is meaningful to your kids.
Likewise, don’t be afraid to try something new together. Recently our daughter became interested in vegan cooking, so we sought out recipes and made them together. We all had a lot of fun learning new dishes and techniques and experimenting with a new way of eating. We stayed close by doing something new and fun that had meaning to our teen.
Susan Sachs Lipman is the author of “Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World” and the parent of a 12th grader.