We all know how difficult the tween and teen years can be on these children who are trying so hard to become adults. Their bodies change drastically, their friendships become more complicated, their schoolwork more intense, and they begin to get minds of their own, if you know what I mean (wink).
No one enjoys moody tweens or teens who intentionally distances themselves from others, who antagonize siblings, or who resent authority, yet if we aren’t careful, that’s exactly the type of tween or teen we may end up with!
How do we avoid this mistake?
How can we keep tweens and teens engaged in the family dynamic so that they stay rooted and connected?
How do we encourage independence without encouraging isolation?
Our family intentionally employs several strategies for keeping tweens and teens in the family, and I’d love to share them with you as they have worked well for us so far.
8 Ways to Keep Tweens and Teens in the Family
1. Keep up the bedtime hugs and I-love-yous through those awkward tween years.
I remember around the age of twelve or thirteen thinking I was too old for bedtime hugs. So, I started saying goodnight from the doorway of the living room rather than going in to hug my parents. This continued for several months until I began to miss those hugs. But by then I felt stuck.
Fast forward a few decades and I find myself in the same situation with our two oldest boys, one sixteen and the other ten. Because we were intentional about asking our sons for hugs goodnight, our sixteen-year-old man-cub continues to do so. The ten-year-old imp is a little more reluctant, but he usually relents with a grin. Since I know he’s not the huggy type, I keep it brief for him.
As parents, we have to intentionally set aside any awkwardness in order to embrace our tweens and teens.
If we begin to act shy or awkward about hugging for real, then our tweens and teens will sense that and hold back, too. But they still need those hugs.
We set the tone.
2. Guard the hearts of your tweens and teens by setting family rules for electronics, internet access, and phones.
We do this in our family in three practical ways. First, we limit the amount of time they are allowed to spend on personal devices such as ipods, Nintendo DSs, computers or tablets, and so forth.
The more time they spend engaged in their personal devices is less time they spend engaged with others.
Second, we have a rule that such devices be used only by permission and only in the family common areas rather than in their own rooms. This holds them accountable for what they are viewing and keeps them near the family even if they aren’t actively engaged. In fact, often our younger children will gather around an older brother’s tablet or DS to join in on the fun!
At bedtime, all devices remain downstairs.
Third, when we switched to all cell phones and no home phone, we intentionally bought our oldest son an old model phone without a data plan. Yes, parents, you are allowed to say “no” to data!
Our teen’s phone also has limited minutes and texts. He knows that to add anyone to his phone or to give out his number, he first needs our permission. We also didn’t allow him to have a facebook page until recently because we know the dangers (and drama!) associated with it. I know it sounds strict, but being protective over our teen’s friendships is an important part of parenting at this age.
We also do our best to model responsible social media usage to our children by keeping phones away from the family table and leaving electronics at home when we go on a family vacation. Monkey see, monkey do, right? We don’t want tweens and teens who are so fettered to their devices that they miss out on interacting with the people right in front of them.
Granted, it’s not a popular position, but it’s hard to argue with a mama who grew up on the mission field very limited phones and tv! 😉
3. Require participation in family time.
Unless it’s family game night (think board games or wii), this is the one area in which our oldest boy sometimes resists or complains because playing outdoors isn’t his favorite. However, usually once we get playing, he enjoys himself.
I firmly believe that even if he mopes at first, at least he knows that we want him with us.
At the same time, we occasionally release him from family obligations should he have a reasonable request, which brings us to the next point…
4. Recognize tweens’ and teens’ growing independence.
As a sixteen-year-old, our son is involved in several extra-curricular activities. At first, it was hard for this over-protective mama to allow such independence with her firstborn son! But I’m learning to let go slowly. 🙂
Recognize also that your maturing tweens and teens are coming into their own, but they haven’t had much practice yet. They need to be heard and respected, even if they sometimes fail to act or speak in a respectful manner.
Address disrespect, by all means, but try to do so gently. Sometimes a punishment does more harm than good.
Sometimes what they really need is someone to model a better way to express themselves.
5. Listen to your tweens and teens!
Between my husband’s youth pastor days and my days as a substitute teacher, I’ve spent a lot of time with tweens and teens. What I’ve learned is that most of them just want someone friendly to talk to. They yearn to be heard and appreciated for who they are. They also fear not being good enough.
Our oldest son doesn’t always open up to me like he used to So when he does want to talk, even if it seems inconsequential at the time, I have to remind myself to stop and listen. I want our children to know that they matter infinitely more than laundry, or cleaning, or writing.
I’ve also recently noticed that if I seem the least bit distracted when our ten-year-old tween wants to tell me a story (and believe me, this one has LOTS of stories), he will soon give up and walk away. And if that happens often enough, he’s likely to quit telling me his stories, even when they really matter.
We want to avoid that kind of breakdown in communication, especially at this age!
So I remind myself: lay down your task, make eye contact, show him he matters to you.
6. Emphasize the importance of sibling roles.
As an oldest child myself, I know that the burdens of being the oldest aren’t always easy to bear. I try to keep this in mind when dealing with our oldest son’s frustrations.
When he’s feeling weighed down by the burdens of being the oldest, I acknowledge those feelings. I listen to him. But I also point out the privileges of being oldest – staying up later, more freedom, etc. I know younger siblings can often be annoying, but when he realizes that they really just want to be with him because they think he is so awesome, it gives him a different perspective.
Looking back at my own teen years, I know it’s easy to become self-absorbed during these years and neglect family relationships. I don’t want that for my children.
Letting my boys know that they are an important and necessary part of our family encourages them to be leaders. When they know that we see their efforts to do right, to help lead our family, then they are more likely to be good examples to their younger brother and sister.
7. Tweens and Teens still need one-on-one time.
I really appreciate the recent push for Daddy-daughter and mother-son date nights because I think one-on-one time with parents is important. But often it seems most of these nights out are aimed at younger children.
It’s easy during theses tween and teen years of busyness to let myself count time spent watching games and performances as time with my kids. While that support of them is important, it shouldn’t be a substitute for quality one-on-one time.
We must be intentional about spending that time with them one-on-one, friends. That’s when the good conversations happen, the deep questions, the excellent opportunities to guide them!
8. Pray, pray, and pray some more.
I’m not a perfect parent, and neither is my husband. We are bound to make mistakes.
So are you.
The best thing we can do for our children is to pray that they will remain on the right path. We can also pray for wisdom in parenting them, especially since no two children are alike! I specifically pray for sensitivity to the Holy Spirit in the are of parenting so that when I’m distracted or irritable or impatient, I recognize it right away.
Even if it seems your prayers aren’t working, don’t give up! You never know when tweens or teens will turn the corner.
Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it. Prov. 22:6
The tween years may seem to last forever, but once you get past them into the teen years, you realize you’ll be saying goodbye much, much sooner than you want to. Let’s keep our tweens and teens deeply rooted in the family so that when they face a real challenge, or when they stumble and fall, they know they have a safe and loving place to come to!
Fight back against their tendency to isolate themselves.
Don’t let them believe that they are going through this difficult phase of life alone.
And don’t forget to pray!
*For more on raising up your family in the faith, see the rest of the posts in the We Are Fa-mi-ly Series at Being Confident of This.