When kids are young, being at home is the best. Sure, most enjoy going to school and socializing with their friends, but a Friday night at home watching a movie with family is about as good as it gets.
There’s a significant shift, however, when kids reach adolescence. Their orientation moves away from the family and towards their peers. They want to find acceptance and belonging from friends, and spending time with the family can feel like a burdensome chore.
Parents are often tempted during these years to relent and allow their teens to spend all their time in their rooms, on their devices, or with friends. Who wants to be around a grumpy, irritated teenager after all?
The problem is, the foundation for a kid to make healthy choices comes from the strength of bonds within their family, and those bonds need to be nurtured over time.
According to the Search Institute, the folks who’ve done the deep, long dive into the assets every kid needs to have to flourish in life, “Research shows spending quality time together as a family helps young people strengthen skills such as leadership, good health, and success in school. About 51% of young people, ages 11–18, spend no more than two nights a week with friends ‘with nothing special to do,’ according to Search Institute surveys. Protecting young people from risky behaviors and helping them develop positive behaviors is easier when you spend time together as a family.”
It’s a tricky tension to navigate. Teenagers need to carve out a life for themselves, and they’re naturally drawn towards people and experiences outside of the home.
But, they also need plenty of time at their home base with people who accept and love them no matter what. On top of that, they are rarely easy to be around.
So, what can parents and caregivers do?
It starts with making a commitment to family time and setting clear expectations. Maybe for your family having dinner together once a week would be a natural step. Or perhaps you’re already doing that regularly, so you may choose to add in a family walk or an additional meal.
Another idea is to start a new tradition like a family game or movie night. It doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as the expectations are clear.
The most important thing for parents to do is stay committed and be engaged. It’s always tempting to grab your phone and scroll through social media, check work emails, or do some online shopping, but kids will take that as a cue and get on their devices, too. What teenagers need isn’t just time together as a family, but engaged time together.
Educators, you can encourage family time, too, by:
- Assigning students to interview a parent or sibling
- Creating mechanisms for students to review their work progress with their parents and write up a short reflection about the conversation
More family time leads to a stronger foundation for teens. They will feel more connected to people who will always support them, giving them a greater capacity for appropriate risk-taking in the world. They will also feel more grounded and less anxious therefore reducing the likelihood that they will turn to harmful substances.