zen habits : breathe

5 Out-of-the-Box Ways to Connect with your Teen, Tween and Young Kids

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Vanessa Van Petten, who runs a teen blog.

Why do teenagers do drugs?

This was the main question in a study conducted by CASA (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse) called “The Importance of Family Dinners.” This study was conducted to find out what causes children to do drugs as teenagers and young adults. It followed 2,000 different types of families and found one major pattern: kids who had regular and frequent family dinners were less likely to do drugs than those with less family interaction.

In other words, family time is one of the most important factors in determining kids disposition to drugs and trouble.

Yet, bonding with kids, getting teenagers to talk at dinner and finding common family interests is hard. I know my favorite responses to my parents were either monosyllabic, or “I don’t know.” This usually meant, “I do know, but I don’t really want to tell you about it.” Ouch. (Don’t worry, I now do talk to my parents over dinner.)

I constantly work with teenagers, and as a 22-year-old, they are often more honest with me than most of their parents. I asked them what kinds of things they would be willing to do with their families. Together, we came up with these suggestions that are a little out of the ordinary, but might actually get your teens excited to start communicating.

1. Weekly Rendezvous. Find a time once a week where your family can get together and talk about a certain issue or play a game. Make it consistent. One family I know has every family member during the week write down at least five words they came upon in every day life they didn’t recognize. It makes both parents and kids think about the ‘challenge’ during the week, they get to learn new words and supposedly they have some pretty funny guessing games and example sentences on their weekly Sunday night challenge.

Pick anything and, depending on your child or family’s interests, you can do it with young kids too. If you want your kids watching the news more, have them find one really interesting news story once a week and email it around to everyone on Friday for discussion at dinner that night.

2. Game Night. This one was a favorite in my house. The most important part of family dinners is the simple act of having family members interacting on a regular basis. During dinner, my siblings and I didn’t want to talk very much, but after dinner and homework, my family played card and board games instead of watching TV. Each of us got to pick a game a certain night of the week. I found it was much easier to interact with my parents during a game of ‘Clue’ or ‘Scene It’ and easier to forget I was mad at them about my curfew after the dance that weekend. We were bonding over games, and it didn’t even feel like bonding.

3. Rate your day. Have trouble getting dinner conversation started? This is a fun and interesting way to get teens talking (and for you to reflect on your day). Every night at dinner have everyone go around the table and give the best part of their day, the worst part of their day and then a surprise (anything random that happened, a funny story or anecdote). Lastly everyone can rate his or her day from 1 to 10 (1 being really bad to 10 being amazing) and then you can talk about it.

4. Tap in to your Local. Depending on your kids’ interests there are a number of interesting activities you can do with your family at local stores. If your kid loves animals, make an appointment at the local rescue shelter so that your family can come and play with puppies and see how their business works. If your kid loves to cook, call a local cake bakery and ask if you can go with your kid to take a tour of their facility—fun, free, and a great way to teach your child more about their hobbies.

5. Festivals, carnivals and Shows—in the next town over. There are tons of local festivals and carnivals in towns and surrounding areas. Register and check local calendars managed by your town and neighboring town’s Chamber of Commerce. Harvest festivals and local film festivals can be a great buy because the family can go to activities over the course of a weekend. You can also take kids to neighboring town’s high school plays and musicals for a fun matinee.

Whichever activity you choose, try to interact with your kids on a regular basis and show them you are interested in their activities, friends and interests. If you are going through a rough time, remember that teens go through ups and downs and so will your relationship. If you keep with it and show them you love them, the relationship will get better!

Vanessa Van Petten is the author of “You’re Grounded!” a parenting book from a teen’s perspective, check out her blog at www.VanessaVanPetten.com. She is the creator of rrules.com the first wiki parenting encyclopedia and teen guide.

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