Connecting with 13 year old son
November 13, 2008 3:38 PM   Subscribe

I really feel my 13 year old son pulling away from me. He text msgs a ton with his friends and just the time we spend together now is minimal. I know this is totally normal adolescent development but it still hurts me inside. Can you suggest things we might do together now to connect? Watching a movie with me is even hard to get him to do. He is a normal well adjusted kid---no problems in school. We usually eat dinner together as a family and I am here when he gets home from school and usually fix his breakfast and see him in the morning for 15 mins til he is out the door. He is my youngest child and it feels sad to not have things we do in common anymore. I used to walk him to school in 6th grade under the guise of giving our dog her daily walk but this year that ended. Help!
posted by seekingsimplicity to Human Relations (42 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Start text messaging with him!
posted by nitsuj at 3:42 PM on November 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

good one nitsuj!
posted by seekingsimplicity at 3:44 PM on November 13, 2008

take the cell phone away when there is no good reason for him to use it. This situation is no different than the landline Phone use issues of the pre internet/cell fone era.

you also didn't say if you were mom or dad.........a 13 years old "boy" is really gonna freak about mom walking him to school everyday. 13 now is like 15/16 20/30 years ago.

don't take it personal, he's just growing up
posted by patnok at 3:47 PM on November 13, 2008

Yeah, my mom totally reconnected with my 20-year-old uncommunicative brother when she learned how to text message.
posted by jschu at 3:48 PM on November 13, 2008

taking his cellphone away is NOT a way to bond with him.

not saying it's not a good a idea. just sayin.
posted by phritosan at 3:51 PM on November 13, 2008

I imagine as a parent reconnecting with a child would be difficult. I know that as a child it can be difficult to reconnect with parents. Perhaps showing an interest in something you wouldn't normally be interested in can help. For instance, does he play games? Showing a sincere interest in/trying the games can be a way to enjoy an activity together (even if you're not good at them!).

One thing that helped me was when my parents would support me even if they disagreed with my actions. Staying positive, happy, and loving even when I made bad choices was helpful to me; if they pointed out what their own experience/knowledge was but let me know that they were happy as long as I was happy, it really helped me feel connected. On the other hand, if they were constantly angry, or worse, disappointed, I tended to draw away.

Kids can be strange, but everyone was one once!
posted by Nixie Pixel at 3:52 PM on November 13, 2008

Learn to play videogames.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:53 PM on November 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

Is he into sports? Music? What does he do in his free time? I mean, if he participates in sports, can you not go and sit in the crowd and cheer him on? I don't have kids so I'm just throwing out ideas here but that would mean a lot to me as a kid.
posted by Brittanie at 3:54 PM on November 13, 2008

My mother was very clingy with me starting about that age until...I was about 25 or so. Things change. Kids grow up. You may be essentially the same person you were 13 years ago, but this kid is starting his adult life - let him. The irony is that - maybe - the more you try to hold on the harder he'll try to pull away.

He is my youngest child and it feels sad to not have things we do in common anymore.

Think of "adult" things to do instead; pattycake and beanbag time are finished. What do you like to do? What are your hobbies? Live your life, and constantly and consistently invite your son into your world, but smothering him is likely to backfire. He may not be an adult, but he's not a kid, either. He needs this independence at his age, it's important for his maturity.
posted by zardoz at 3:56 PM on November 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

Not doing any sports or music at the moment.

His true love is geography and history.
posted by seekingsimplicity at 3:56 PM on November 13, 2008

Geography and history?

If you have any sort of cash, travel. If you can afford it, Europe. If you can't, this continent has tons of stuff to go to.

Make it fun, but don't hover. For the love of God, don't hover.
posted by SNWidget at 4:01 PM on November 13, 2008 [4 favorites]

A poster above suggested taking the phone away - this would be negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement may work for some parents and some children, and perhaps the children benefit from it in the long run, and I know I can't speak for all children, but just about any kid I ever knew would resent his or her parents for taking negative actions.

If the goal is bonding with a child, like it or not parents will have to do most of the adapting. Children tend to be remarkably in touch with things such as current technology, and if this child has chosen text messaging as a way to be in touch with the people he cares about, what possible negative can arise from instead of fighting against this, embracing it yourself?

If the young man likes sitting in front of his Playstation blowing up people 1000 miles away, perhaps you can sit down as well and die horrible, digital deaths at his hands or the hands of his friends. He and they will laugh at how bad you are at the game, but at the end of the day they all just might walk away saying "hey, your mom/dad is really cool!"

Children, like adults, want to feel connected with the people they love, and having things in common tends to be more important to them than to adults. In my opinion, finding those things in common can, and likely will, lead to emotional connection. As an added bonus, you might get to see first hand common pitfalls (verbal abuse, references to drugs, sex, etc) and be able to address those things in a positive, casual manner.
posted by Nixie Pixel at 4:04 PM on November 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

Okay I have absolutely NO experience with raising children, so take this as you will. However, my best friend of over 30 years has a 13 year old son (by marriage), his first, and he's having almost exactly the same issues. We talk, he asks for whatever advice a 40-something die-hard bachelor can give etc etc. Not saying I helped really, but in the end, we got him involved in what we like to do - big nerds that we are, lots of computer games, online stuff, activities that the entire family can participate in, and in return we (including his faraway Uncle Elendil) have got used to responding to text messages etc and phone pix of his nauseating school lunch. It's a good trade and I think, for them anyway, it's worked pretty well. I think the key there is just getting involved (as much as is feasible) in whatever your son likes at the time.

Now we just have to wean his son off of WoW.... oooog.

On preview, Nixie Pixel said it better.
posted by elendil71 at 4:10 PM on November 13, 2008

I recently read this book by Steve Biddulph, and it's nice in that it really honours the way boys are different and wonderful in their own way. I would recommend reading it because it talks about the various stages a boy goes through on his way to becoming his own person. I believe what your son is going through is a necessary developnmental stage, and although it hurts, you should not kick and struggle against it. It doesn't mean he doesn't love you anymore, there just comes a time when boys start looking externally for their influences, and you really have to still be that unmoveable support he still needs, and to keep vigilant to make sure the influences he selects are appropriate ones.
posted by lottie at 4:12 PM on November 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

Just continue to show interest in his life. Ask him about it- school, his friends, his teachers, anything and everything. Depending on the kind of kid he is, he might respond or not (or just in monosyllables). Don't push if he isn't interested, and don't reproach him if he doesn't want to have a sit down conversation about his day every time. I've watched my mom do some of this with my younger brother (who definitely is in the monosyllables-leave-me-alone-already camp), I think because I would always hang out with her and tell her about my day even as a high school senior (but then I'd always been that way). Remember that he's developing his own life, and his own self right now- if he makes choices (especially about clothes, music, etc.) that you don't agree with, consider just letting him, even if you think he's making a mistake. The best thing you can do to ensure you have a good relationship now and in the future is support him, don't judge him, and always be open to talk. If you try to smother him, he'll slip away.
posted by MadamM at 4:12 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

if he digs history, take him to the museum, and watch historical films with him. Give him a chance to teach you something.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:15 PM on November 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

geocaching, plenty of geography and history tie ins here. I've found that the caches are often hidden near some sort of historic place. geography; gps, maps, differing terrains. plug in your zip code and see what is around you.
posted by busboy789 at 4:17 PM on November 13, 2008 [5 favorites]

I know that when I was 13, any move from my parents to 1. restrict my freedom (take away my cellphone, which I didn't get till I was much older, but that's not the point) and 2. build more family time beyond my desire would've been see as a capital felony deserving of the cold shoulder, much simmering resentment culminating in angry rants to friends at school, and in my case, hiding in the bathroom with a stack of books and maybe a glass of water.

But then again, I was a weird kid.

I know it sucks that they're pulling away from you, but realize that the more you cling, the less they will want to reconnect when they eventually grow up and realize the importance of a family. I wasn't especially close with my parents, but I definitely appreciated the independence they afforded me (intentionally or not) during those years, since now I feel like I can go to them for advice without getting an earful of nagging and "I told you you should've listened to me" and "you're crawling back to the family now, eh?", which I've observed in the cases of a lot of my friends who had helicopter parents.

The best advice I can really give you is to treat him like an adult. I feel like trying to do the things he does would be really awkward, like you're trying too hard. Case in point: I STILL hate it when my parents ask me what I'm writing about, since their idea of a fantasy novel is "Harry Potter", and it just ends up being a very exasperating and awkward conversation. I appreciate the effort, but still. What you can do, though, is start sharing your interests. 'Cause that's what friends do, right? They share interests. This way he'll start seeing you more a person than just a parent.

He likes history and geography? Occasionally mention interesting things you've read about in the paper that pertain to this. Buy him a subscription to The Economist and randomly chat about what's going on in there. Some of my best conversations with my parents were about political subjects we all found interesting, and thus didn't have to force for the sake of family conversation. If you learn about an interesting historical drama or something, mention that he might like it, but don't push him into it. When it becomes more about what you two are DOING and not the fact that he's doing it with YOU, it becomes a lot more relaxed and fun.
posted by Phire at 4:19 PM on November 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

nthing the suggestion of travel -- travel abroad is wonderful, but domestic travel is, of course, great too; if he's interested in the Civil War, for example, you can do a tour of battlegrounds, etc.

Possible related activities: visiting museums, learning a foreign language, joining your local historical society, getting a subscription to a magazine or journal he might like, and creating a family "film festival" centered on the historical periods or events he's most interested in.

I do also strongly second the advice to avoid hovering or over-chaperoning him. (I'm convinced it's the plague of modern parenting, and that it doesn't ultimately benefit either the child or the society of which he or she is a part. /rant) Especially at that age, kids crave -- and, indeed, need -- a measure of latitude and independence. If you go to a museum with him, for example, don't just visit the galleries together; let him go off to one gallery to explore by himself while you go to another gallery, then you meet up later for coffee to have a conversation about what each of you saw.

Just a generation ago, my parents went even further in terms of the independence they allowed me -- when we lived in Vienna for a summer when I was 12, I was often allowed to explore the city entirely on my own. Armed with a subway map, a phrase book, and a little cash, I spent countless hours listening to string quartet in the park while drawing in my sketch book, shopping on the Kartnerstrasse, going to museums, and reading in various cafes -- all priceless experiences that changed my life. So this meant that while I may not have spent every hour of those travels with my parents, we certainly had plenty to talk about when we were together.
posted by scody at 4:35 PM on November 13, 2008

oops, last paragraph got cut off... I meant to finish by saying that I am alternately amused and horrified by how rare it seems to be these days to let a child step out into the world unchaperoned (witness the moral panic visited upon the mom in New York a few months ago who wrote about how she was letting her kid take the subway alone). Even if it seems counterintutive (or at least feels emotionally difficult), I really do think that giving kids a certain amount of space can create the opportunity for a richer parent-child relationship, as well as helping prepare the child to transition into being an adult.
posted by scody at 4:41 PM on November 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oh, I so feel your frustration. I'm a helicopter parent anyway, and just the steps my son is taking as he nears 6 are nerve-wracking. But I know that I have to let him develop his own place in the universe. It's not something I can do for him.

At 13, if he's pulling away...that means you did it right! Celebrate the fact that your son has the courage to go out and forge a spot in the universe that is just his. You've made him strong and smart and now it's time for everything that you've spent 13 years teaching him to actually get used.

But, even as they take those steps in to adulthood, they still need safe harbor, a loving authority, a rule maker. It's sad that they leave our hearth to find joy outside of our sphere, but you totally gave him that ability, and how damn groovy is that?

So, txt msg that you love him, consider a trip to some far-off clime to visit someplace that fascinates him. Make yourself some brownies and have a good sniffle, but overall, be proud that you raised a young man strong enough to become a grown man, and not stay a boy forever.

Go you!
posted by dejah420 at 4:43 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Definitely try to show an interest in what he's interested in, but keep it low-key. When I was 13, if my mother had shown too much interest in what I liked, that would have been all the incentive I needed to immediately lose interest.

Also, start text-messaging him, if you don't already.

As for things you can do together, you could set up a standing date to do something related to his interests. One Saturday a month, take him to a museum, or an art gallery, or something that's related to what he likes. You probably won't talk much there, but the drive there and back is a great opportunity to talk.

In fact, why not just take long drives with him? Some of the best times I had with my mother was on a weekend, or after school, where we'd spontaneously get in the car, just me and her (no siblings invited!), and just drive. We went to a lot of places - castle ruins, mountains, lochs, anywhere within a day's trip there and back - but I don't remember the places we went so much as I remember the journey we took getting there.

In that car, driving along back country roads, with my mother's Billy Joel CD playing, and the windows open, it didn't matter that I was fourteen and thought I knew everything, it only mattered that somehow, for the first time since I was a kid, I could really talk to her. And I did.

If your kid is anything like I was at that age (and he sounds like it), he'll probably roll his eyes and spend the first twenty minutes texting his friends about how much it sucks, but I guarantee you, at some point during the drive, he'll open up and talk to you.
posted by shaka, when the walls fell at 4:47 PM on November 13, 2008

We usually eat dinner together as a family and I am here when he gets home from school and usually fix his breakfast and see him in the morning for 15 mins til he is out the door.

It already sounds like you're spending a fair amount of time together. I would imagine that, at thirteen, he probably has a fair amount of homework, possibly a few extra curriculars, a burgeoning social life, and an increased need for alone time thanks to a burgeoning sexuality (I know you probably don't want to think about that, but it's true). I wouldn't try to add more than a few more hours of togetherness a week, and make it casual, low pressure and fun--invite him to a museum, as several people suggested, something like that. And I'm sure the dog still needs walks. You could always invite your son out after dinner to walk around the block with you.

But I'd also suggest counseling for you to help you with this adjustment, as well as some sort of activity to keep yourself feeling busy and independent. Are there any classes you want to take? I'm speaking as someone who has (still) a fairly clingy mother, who nevertheless I'm close friends with--in my teen years, though, it was difficult for me to spend any time with her without getting guilt about it not being enough, which made us both feel miserable. Please don't do this to your kid. It's an awful feeling.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:51 PM on November 13, 2008

Sorry maybe I'm old fashion but a 13year old has no reason to have a cell 24/7
posted by patnok at 4:53 PM on November 13, 2008

Make your house a cool place with cool stuff that his friends will want visit. You can win over the friends by being a cool, laid back mom, who has all the great snacks and is just generally pretty cool. They'll tell him how cool you are and he'll stop being insecure about you Forcing intimacy at this age is REALLY hard. Tricking him into it is probably easier. This plan of course is more long range and is pretty dependent on where you live and how your house is set up. Worth a shot though.
posted by milarepa at 4:54 PM on November 13, 2008

Oh boy. I remember when my brother was 13-15, he started going all withdrawn and sullen and my mom hated it because (I think) she could never figure out why. So she started trying to control him basically... harping on little, mundane things, because he is and was a good kid, but it drove him crazy, and it drove HER crazy that he wouldn't allow himself to be controlled. (And of course, I got to hear aallllll about it as the older sister who was supposed to talk him into spending more time with Mom, but I digress.)

I'd say just give him space, honestly. He's a normal, well-adjusted kid, and if you let him he'll grow up into a normal, well-adjusted adult. I think you probably know this already, it's just worse because he's your youngest kid and the baby of the family, but he's not a baby any more.
posted by Xany at 5:11 PM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

My boy is almost 16 now, and we went through the exact same thing - still go through it at times, really. Some random things for you - I always said (and still say) yes to having friends over, as long as it isn't conflicting with other family plans. We have had weeks-long stretches where my son and 3 or 4 of his friends crashed in our family room every Friday night. I always hung out long enough to chat while making piles of snacks and then left them to their own devices. The end result is that my son AND his friends always want to come to our house first, and my son has seen me interact with his friends enought that he doesn't get all weird about having me around.

We also have an occasional Sunday car trip to do something "down the road" that my son likes - heading to the huge used CD store in College Park or Guitar Center in Rockville gives us 30 or 40 minutes in the car each way and we have lots of nice talks and some coffee together. He gets to show me why this or that drum set is so bad ass, explain (again) the difference between a china and a crash cymbal, or ask my advice about jazz music or comedy CDs and I get to hang out with him.

Any time we have a trip out of town, I always offer the opportunity for my son to bring a friend. Trips to New York or Philly or Toronto are fun family times with my son bringing a "plus one" - we all hang out together lots, and there's usually a chance to let the boys go off and do something (reasonable) on their own. We took him to Europe for the first time last year, and that trip included my brother and his wife and their two boys - having other teenagers along made it much less weird and foreign (I know, I know) for my son, and now he's looking forward to going to Ireland and Germany in the spring with just me and my husband.

Frankly, even at 12 or 13, sometimes I would just tell him something like "Look, I really feel like we haven't seen each other much lately, even though we live in the same house - I know it might seem like I'm making a big deal about it, but it's really important to me that we hang out or talk for a while - think you could indulge me for an hour?" Giving my son an honest "I know I'm being weird, just humor me" takes some of the heavy weirdness out of the whole thing.

He's the light of my life.
posted by ersatzkat at 5:16 PM on November 13, 2008 [15 favorites]

Oh! And so you don't think my life is all rosy, sometimes he can be a real ASSHOLE, too.
posted by ersatzkat at 5:18 PM on November 13, 2008

I was that 13 year old, and now I teach a few of them how to draw on the weekends. Adolescent withdrawl has always seemed to me, from a few different angles, to be the default way of dealing with an emotional clusterfuck. Teens with active minds have all the doubts and curiosities and conflicts that inquisitive adults have, and then they have a pile of social bullshit on top of that. They also have no experience at anything and raging hormones. If you think about it, you can't take any reaction to a situation like that at face value. It just doesn't balance that someone would have such a simple reaction (don't like my parents anymore) to such a complicated state. Your son still needs you, but in much different ways and probably in much smaller quantities than before. He's not going to know how to explain it or ask for your help when he needs it, and there's going to be resentment and frustration as a result. Figuring out your relationship with him is your job to do -- he's already too busy trying to figure out how to be a person. He's changing, and you need to change with him and show him that you don't resent the fact that he's not an amusing little child anymore. You'll have to constantly balance between getting out of his way and supporting him, and it won't always go well. He's going to think you're a dork, so let him. Eventually he'll think you're a sweet dork if you keep at it.

When I hated my parents most, I was constantly jealous of my friends who talked to their parents like equals and felt comfortable sharing things with them or didn't feel like a guest in their own house. If you asked me, I'd say parents as a concept were pretty shit, but really all I wanted was a lot of space and parents that were patient and interested when I felt like hanging out with them. I nth the suggestions of basically being a responsible facilitator -- letting friends come over all the time, driving him to cool places he wants to go. Hell, if he wants to go see a Native American historical site in the next state over, pretend to be really reluctant to do it just to make him want it more before you say yes. Be open, be trusting, give him space, don't step in unless there's a real cause for concern, and he'll love you for it some day. Maybe even some day soon.

Oh, and this is probably the only thing I have learned about teaching teenagers so far: If you have a good idea, never ever suggest it or ask them what they think about it. It will then become a dumb idea. Just do it and get out of the way when they start having fun.
posted by nímwunnan at 6:45 PM on November 13, 2008

I'm a girl, but at that age, what I enjoyed doing with my parents was taking trips. Ask him if there's anywhere within a a few driving hours that he'd like to go see. Time in the car was always well spent telling stories, or playing spelling/math games... but I'm kind of geeky like that. As long as you don't let him sit there with his headphones on, it's a good opportunity to connect.
posted by sunshinesky at 7:06 PM on November 13, 2008

I have a son only a little older than yours. I don't pretend to have everything figured out, we're making it up as we go along, but things seem to be going quite well. So I can't give you a complete plan, just a few half ideas and observations.

Our attitude has always been to be quite open about teen moodiness, to joke about how he's going to hate us for the next few years. Make it clear we love him no matter what he thinks of us at the moment. Sort of undercuts the power of "my parents just don't understand me" if they have told you you're going to be thinking that for the next four years.

Actual moments of teen sullenness aren't too bad, we always take him seriously if he's worried about things, even if we think the things involved aren't worth worrying about. I think you should have conversations with him, and you can't just ask what did you do at school and expect him to provide a conversation for you. He's a real person now, you're going to have to use everything you've learnt about human relationships, and it's important that you do because he's learning a lot about how to behave from you, though it may be more through observation than from what you tell him.

My perspective is that at that age they are becoming individuals with their own interests and opinions, and you're going to have to adjust to the new reality that they aren't going to follow you around like a little duckling anymore. But that doesn't mean they don't love and rely on you anymore, of course they do.
You also need to be a little bit resilient about teen sourness, don't go chasing his approval. And don't surrender parental authority and the power to compel, but use it gently, be careful never to use it to boost your emotions.

On the taking away the phone issue, I would do it sometimes, but carefully. I would never give my son the impression that there is anything wrong with txting/msging his friends, but there are definitely times when we make him put the computer/phone away and come be part of this family for a bit.

We have also made it a requirement that our son participate in some kind of regular strenuous physical exercise that he finds enjoyable, and that if he can't find anything we will find it for him. On the basis that you really do need to do regular exercise to be happy and healthy.
Of course you can't impose that sort of requirement without any credibility if you aren't willing to follow it yourself.

The suggestion about travel is a great one if you can afford it. Tell him to bring some of the music he likes and go on a road trip. Maybe get an ipod and connecter so he can play his music through the car stereo. In the confines of a car away from mobile phone reception our son will talk for hours about the bands and songs that he likes.

playing video games isn't a bad idea either.
posted by compound eye at 8:41 PM on November 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

I withdrew from my parents from about 13 until, well, 25. It clearly hurt my father, but kids are assholes, or I was anyway, despite being a 'good kid.' I don't know how much sunshine that unleashes, but I hope it helps to know you're not alone. I got along much better with my parents once I moved out, and I hear my friends say similar things.

One thing that did help was that my dad and I went camping when I was 10-15, at least a couple times a year. Drive down to Mexico, sit among the cacti, play gin rummy into the night. I'd say take the travel one step further and don't go visit a city, don't get caught up in touristy stuff that will distract you from eachother. Go on hikes, sit with a lantern and teach him to steam clams you bought for 5 bucks.

Asking him to bring along music will help, too, but remember not to push it - that will result in only further alienation.
posted by OrangeDrink at 10:27 PM on November 13, 2008

Let it go
posted by tiburon at 11:09 PM on November 13, 2008

Buy him a subscription to The Economist.

I'll second that. Make it more than just that magazine. My mother made the deal "you can order whatever books from the book club you want to [provided you read them] and I'll pay".

That gave me some of the best books of my life without having her to cling to me. As I chose the books without her having any say in it, I felt it was my books, not my mothers. It saved my interest in litterature; something highschool tried the best to kill in me. My teacher really didn't like me.

Give your son tools to support his interests. And treat him as an adult; that's whats most teens crave, and it's whats they never get in school.
posted by flif at 1:32 AM on November 14, 2008

Lots of great advice upthread. I second all the stuff about activities and getting involved. I just have one thing to add: I think that you may have to make a special effort to accept that your son, at 13, has to change and grow.

I'm 30 years old, and my mother is still angry at me over my "changing" and "losing respect for her" at 13. She brings it up regularly. I didn't turn into a problem child when I was 13 (or later for that matter), but I remember a certain psychological distancing which occurred around that age. I remember realising that I wasn't obliged to share all my mother's opinions, and that I might have to start taking some responsiblity for my life, rather than letting her run it by default. I also remember that the opinions of people outside the family started mattering to me at that age. I think that was pretty normal, but it is something my mother resents to this day. It seems she wanted a perpetual child, not an adult equal. The fact that she thinks I should have frozen in time when I was 12 both breaks my heart and makes me very angry. The net result is that our adult relationship is rocky, to say the least.

I suppose what I'm saying is, I think you have a choice. I think you can build a relationship with the man he is going to be, or you can mourn the loss of your child. I'm sure parents often find this very distressing, and I don't want to take away from that. But I think if you want a good adult relationship with your child, you may have to spend some energy dealing with your own emotional response to the fact of his growing up. Best of luck.
posted by tiny crocodile at 3:20 AM on November 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

Do nooooooooooooooot take his phone away. The way to get him to spend time with you is definitely not by punishing him. Find things you both love... I'm sure they exist. Board games, computer games, hiking, sports.... anything. Heck, my dad and I (I'm 17) both love chinese food, so we make it a hobby to go to the different chinese/korean restaurants in the area (and even further away) and enjoy them together. Find something, it's there!
posted by Precision at 5:15 AM on November 14, 2008

Take him on some trips whether it be local or a little far away. Weekend trips are great or even a Saturday trip can be fun. Let him help you make the plans. Movies are great but you both concentrate on the film and don't really get a chance to communicate or bond. Suggest to him to leave the phone at home and the ipod at home. Offer to listen to cds of his on the car's player.
posted by JJ86 at 6:28 AM on November 14, 2008

Find something he likes - that you like, or can at least tolerate - and do it together.

My kids (age 11, 8 and 5) just about died when my husband and I bought Nintendo DSs so we could all connect and play games together. It's something they LOVE to do and they love that they know more about it than we do (and can thus help us, play with us and enjoy the time greatly).

I think parents often try to make their kids come into the adult world to spend time rather than going the other way around.

Your son loves to txtmsg -- can you do it a bit too and send him little notes here and there?

The idea of a roadtrip or an adventure together in the car is also great - it's 'forced bonding' time. You can chat, discuss, relax, and have a new experience together.

If you can find a class to take together (let him pick) so you've got a scheduled weekly thing together, that's even better.

All the teenage years feature an attempt by the kid to start pulling away from the family unit and building their own relationship to the world. That doesn't mean you can't still be a part of it - just that the WAY you connect has to change.
posted by VioletU at 6:47 AM on November 14, 2008

Seconding geocaching, and also historical/old cemeteries in your area. I was a history-loving solitary kid, and going to old cemeteries (OK, this was Oregon in the 70s, so a 100-year-old grave was something!) was a great way to poke around and learn more about my parents and my local history: "How come there are so many people born in Norway in this section? Why aren't there any Native American graves here? Is this really a guy who had four wives and kids with each, and why did the women die so fast? If this woman was born in Kentucky and died here in 1870, do you think she came on the Trail?" I learned a LOT.

Plus, I got to borrow my mom's fancy SLR camera and take pictures, some of which were pretty good. I still take pictures in cemeteries.
posted by catlet at 7:10 AM on November 14, 2008

I think doing something together- manual labour-esque but not exhausting- would work well. Maybe pretend the dishwasher's broken and wash dishes together? Better yet, paint a room. Don't frame it as a "we need to connect" moment, just casually ask for help, with a little warning- like "can you help me paint the living room on Sunday afternoon?". Make sure the beginning is pleasant- no "hurry up" or "I'm waiting" bad vibes. Play quiet pleasant music from another room so it feels easy to talk- something light, energetic, & non-narrative; the Beatles would be good. Get to work and let him drive the conversation. The talking will flow naturally if your hands are busy. I've really connected with people doing stuff like this.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:49 PM on November 14, 2008

I'm a 22 year old, so no experience raising teenagers, but another thing to think about is the issue of texting when you're, say, traveling. I definitely nth the idea of solo trips with him, but is it possible that he'd just sit there silently texting the whole day? Just something to think about.
posted by mittenedsex at 5:26 PM on November 14, 2008

What's the difference between him and your other kids? Is this just you trying to baby your 'last' child to avoid leaving you with a sort of empty nest? It might be worth NOT treating him any differently to the others, because that could backfire in both directions: he gets resentful that you don't leave him alone the way you did his older brother/sister, and they get resentful that he's still being the spoilt favourite baby of the family.
posted by jacalata at 8:34 PM on November 17, 2008

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