We’ve all seen the stereotypical image. It’s summer vacation time. Mom, Dad, and the younger kids are all enthusiastic and happy as they look forward to the fun activities that are sure come. Then there is the teenager, sullen, bored, and engaged in their electronics. When this image comes to mind, certain words and phrases might come to mind:
Before you dismiss that sullen teenager as needing an attitude adjustment, consider this. Imagine spending an entire where most of the family activities are planned around the wants and needs of your younger siblings, where you have little to no say so, and you are expected happily follow along because it’s ‘family time’. You are too old to enjoy many of the typical summer vacation, family experiences. You aren’t old enough to be treated like an adult. That sullen look makes a lot more sense when the teenager’s point of view is considered.
What’s the answer? Do you cut your teenager loose and free them from all summertime obligations? Absolutely not. Teens need family time as much as the littler ones do. They also need to the life skills and resilience to survive the occasionally boring experience. The key is to create a teen friendly, summer experience so that all members of your family are assured a great time.
Give Them Lots of Freedom on Outings
The quickest way to create a miserable teenager is to force them to spend an entire day at the zoo, amusement park, or other attraction attached at the hip to their parents and younger siblings. After all, for the teen this means spending the day doing things that are fun and age appropriate for little kids, or that are interesting to adults. Give them freedom to explore on their own within reason, and the attitude changes can be amazing.
They’ll also be much more receptive when they are told that certain things are non negotiable. One thing that works for many families is to give teens plenty of leeway to be on their own, but then set a rule that mealtimes and other special events are family time and their presence isn’t optional.
Invite a Friend Along
It might not be feasible for every summertime activity, but allowing teens to bring a friend along can be extremely helpful. First, they’ll love you for it. It’s also a really effective boredom buster. You might even notice that squabbling with younger siblings is significantly reduced. After all, your 15 year old might be willing to argue aboutwho picks the radio station with their nine year old sibling in front of you, but they probably won’t want to do that in front of their friend. Here’s the best bonus of all; if you have a teen that is notoriously closed mouthed about their thoughts and interests, pay attention to what they discuss with their friend. You can learn some pretty cool things.
Plan a Few Trips Without The Little Ones
One great way to reach out to your teen and strengthen bonds is to plan some trips and outings without younger siblings, and even without your spouse. One option you have is to plan a few college visits. Line up a few weekends to drive or fly to a few campuses to spend the weekend. Spend time speaking with advisors and touring campuses. Then, be sure to carve out time to explore the college town, go out for dinner, and just connect with one another. Try to forget the fact that they will be spending much time in the future focused on college paper writing and other obligations, and just enjoy the getaway.
Trade Responsibility For Privileges
Teenagers, especially those with licenses can be a great help. They can chauffer siblings to activities. They can run errands for parents. They’re even old enough to hold down the fort for the night when parents go out on the town. Don’t be afraid to increase your teen’s level of responsibility. They’ll learn their value and importance within their own family along with developing a sense of responsibility.
Here’s the catch. If all that they get is obligations without reward, their takeaway is going to be that they got saddled with a bunch of responsibilities that sucked the life out of their summer. Increase their privileges and they’ll feel valued and appreciated.
Have Them Make The Plans Every Once in aWhile
There’s a philosophy among Army drill instructors that claims that the best way to deal with a soldier who complains and makes trouble isn’t to be hard on them. It’s to put them in positions of leadership. It turns out that doing this motivates the difficult recruit to think beyond their own needs and to consider the whole group. Likewise, when your teen plans a family, summer outing, you might be surprised at the level of thoughtfulness they employ.
Work on a Service Project Together
Have you ever considered getting your teen interested in a family service project? What are their passions? Would they like to work with a local organization to work on art projects at a children's’ hospital? What about working home and assembling and care packages and blankets to pass out to homeless men and women? What about common interests?Put your head together with your teen and spend some time serving others this summer.
Make Sure Their Wants Are Prioritized on Occasion
It can be tempting to plan an entire summer around those brochures of smiling, little kids. Just don’t forget about the teens. If you are planning a day trip, be sure that one of the activities centers on something that your teen will find interesting. If you are planning a vacation, pick a destination that has things to do for the older kids as well as the little ones.
Remember that the teen years are years of separation. This means that the time you do spend together should focus on positive interaction and finding ways to enjoy your time together.