As far back as I can remember, I’ve always had a houseful of kids. While other parents were hosting their kids’ birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese, the local bowling alley or the pool, I was the mom hosting a gig for 20 crazy kids who were hell-bent on breaking something before they left. I was also the mom hosting the end of the school year waterslide parties in our backyard where an endless supply of Kool-Aid and Band-Aids flowed for sips and slips.
St. Patrick’s Day parties, scavenger hunts, cookie baking gatherings and summer water balloon battles – no matter the day or season, we always seemed to have kids flocking to our house for one reason or another.
As stressful and chaotic as it was at times, and as many nicks, scratches, and dents as my house endured due to the constant flow of kid traffic, I never regretted it. In fact, I loved it.
Fast forward a few years and now that my kids are much older, I still love it… but for totally different reasons.
I know… right about now, I can hear the quiet cringe of parents thinking to themselves, “Why would anyone want a bunch of messy, noisy teenagers in their house eating you out of house and home?”
Sure, you might have to spring for the cost of a few extra snacks, deal with some additional clean up and brace yourself for the noise (teenagers can get loud), but the upside of opening your home to the occasional chaos of a houseful of teenagers far outweighs the downside.
Every time I open my home to my kids’ friends I’m strengthening my relationship with my kids by showing them I care about them and their friends. I’m also reinforcing their sense of security by giving them a comfortable safe zone to hang out with their friends in their own home.
Whether they’re doing a school project with their friends, studying for a big test or just hanging out on a Friday night, it helps me stay a little more connected to my own kids and the kids they’ve chosen to spend their time with.
Plus, aside from the obvious benefit of getting to know the kids who potentially hold the power to influence my kids’ lives more than me, I’m also tuned into the fact that my kids act differently around their friends than they do at home, which offers me an inside glimpse into the tender world of my kids’ lives.
But, there’s an even greater hidden advantage of being the hangout house that I realized only after my kids became older teenagers… a bonus that trumps them all.
My kids became responsible.
They’ve come to realize that our flexible house policy is a privilege and the fate of that privilege rests in their hands. They love their home, they’re proud of it, and they’ve come to respect it and protect it.
My husband and I have put our kids in charge of cleaning up after their friends leave, damage control (teens can get rowdy at times), managing rude, offensive or disrespectful behavior on the part of their friends and essentially making sure that their friends don’t do anything under our roof that we wouldn’t approve of. It’s a big responsibility that my kids don’t take lightly. In fact, on more than one occasion, my kids have asked a friend or two to leave when they’ve done something my kids didn’t approve of. Yes… you heard it right… something my kids didn’t approve of.
Let’s face it; opening your home to a bunch of teenagers isn’t for everyone. It can be messy, stressful and exhausting at times. But, coming from a mom who lives the life, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. So, if you’re one of those parents who’s up to the task, here’s a few simple ways to make your home the favorite hangout house for your kids and all their friends:
Stock Up on Munchies
We all know how much teenagers love to eat and since they’re hungry practically 24/7 it’s always a good idea to have plenty of munchies on hand. Snacks such as chips, popcorn, pretzels, or pizza paired with a few drinks will keep them happy for hours. And, since a lot of teens today are opting for healthier food options, things like grapes, apples, veggies and dip and granola bars are also great options. If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to draw the kids in and make them feel welcome, host an afternoon BBQ. Nothing too expensive or extravagant is needed, (teens are never picky about food). Just toss a few burgers and hotdogs on the grill and offer a few simple sides, cold soda and get a game of badminton or volleyball going in the backyard. You’ll soon find that your home is the place teens want to be.
Embrace Impromptu (and Imperfect) Gatherings
Teenagers are spontaneous… far more spontaneous than adults, which is why it’s often difficult for parents to deal with the casual friend drop-ins that are so common when you’re the house of choice. Having a relaxed attitude about impromptu visits from your kids’ friends even when it’s not the most convenient time will go a long way in making them feel comfortable and welcome. Embrace those imperfect, impromptu moments. The more “at home” kids feel, the more likely they’ll be to actually begin behaving like family. Don’t be surprised if they jump in to help you take groceries out of the car, help you take the garbage out or offer to help in the kitchen.
Make Them Feel Special
Have you ever noticed the look on a toddler’s face when you smile at them? They’re so incredibly excited to be noticed that their face lights up like a Christmas tree. Imagine what would happen if we treated our kids’ friends the same way. Kids, regardless of how old they are, love to be noticed and they love attention. When your kids’ friends walk in the door, make them feel special. Ask them about school, their job, their life and their family. Take an interest in the new internship they just accepted or the big family vacation that’s on the horizon. Many parents feel that when kids become teenagers it’s our cue to back off and disengage. However, the truth is, teenagers need just as much attention, love, and guidance, if not more, as toddlers do.
Give ‘Em Their Space
Teens need a casual, no-fuss space, preferably away from parents, so they can sprawl out and be themselves. A comfy couch, squishy pillows, a TV and the freedom to crank their music will make them feel right at home. If you’re worried about your new white couch, the expensive rug you just bought for under the coffee table or the embroidered pillows that match perfectly with your drapes, you might want to reconsider having teens in your home. Aside from choosing a space that isn’t too stuffy or formal, make sure you back off and give them room to breathe. Don’t hover, check on them too often (although popping in occasionally is always a smart idea) or fuss about an occasional spilled drink or crumbs on the couch. The more casual and relaxed you are about having them (without being overly permissive, of course), the more casual and relaxed they’ll feel about hanging out in your home.
Take the Pressure Off
We all know that teenagers today are under immense pressure. The stress of school, peers, their job and sometimes even family life can be overwhelming for some teenagers. Cut them a little slack by giving them the freedom to be themselves. Not having to be “on” for inquisitive parents who are dying to find out more about the friends their kids’ have chosen to hang with can be a big relief for a stressed-out teen. Avoid peppering them with questions about their home life, school, their grades, which college they plan to attend or if they’ve given any thought to what their major will be. Just focus on creating a relaxed environment and take cues from the kids. If they’re in the mood to dive into deeper conversations, stand ready. If not, keep it light and take the pressure off.
Toss in a Few Perks
Whether it’s a fancy perk like a heated pool, hot tub or a tennis court or something a little more low-key like a ping pong table, a big screen TV or a fire pit in the backyard, having a few teen-friendly perks in your house can be a big draw, especially when teens are bored. But, don’t worry if your house isn’t equipped with the latest and greatest amenities. Teens are pretty easy to please. Games, a good selection of movies or a few Nerf guns (you’d be surprised how many 18-year-olds love a good Nerf gun war) will loosen them up and give them the leeway to get a little rowdy. One of the favored hangout spots in my house is my outdoor deck that has comfy seating and a porch swing. A few lit candles, music they love, and a few simple snacks and they’re as happy as can be!
Show Genuine Interest
This goes hand in hand with making your kids’ friends feel special, but dives in just a bit deeper. You may find that some kids need a little extra attention, compassion or empathy. Perhaps his or her parents just announced that they’re divorcing, that they’re failing math despite their best efforts or that they’re struggling to land a summer job. Just like all parents have their fair share of issues and struggles they’re dealing with, so do teens. And, sadly, some teenagers lack the much-needed support from family, peers or teachers. Offering a non-judgmental listening ear and showing genuine interest in a child’s life and their struggles can make a tremendous difference in their outlook on life, their ability to cope and even their future. Remember, it takes a village to raise kids. Be the village your kids’ friends need.
Opening your home to other people’s kids comes with a level of commitment. While it’s important to offer kids a casual space to chill out, provide a few snacks and keep the atmosphere unpretentious, it’s equally as important to be a good role model. Teenagers need as much positive reinforcement as possible to help them steer clear of risky behavior and make good decisions. Setting a good example, being accessible and available, establishing solid expectations and rules, and never wavering when it comes to the respect you deserve as a parent is a must to ensure you, your children and your home are respected and appreciated when kids walk in the door.
Above all, take a moment to cherish the moments when your home is packed with kids. These are precious, fleeting moments. All too quickly your children and their friends will be off to college, living their own lives and your home will be far quieter than you ever imagined.
Post: Raising Teens Today