Great, teenagers.
October 29, 2015 5:07 PM   Subscribe

My kids are 11, 13 and nearly 15. I don't know how to play with them. I miss family outings. What kinds of things do you do with your young teens?

I spend a lot of time with them individually and mostly that is just sitting and talking or talking while we're doing something together, like cooking. I've taught them all how to cook and they're great at it. I can get them to cook something together, like spend an afternoon making cupcakes or bagels, but at least one of them is doing it grudgingly. Husband has music so he plays guitar with two of them who also have music. The girl likes eyeliner and art so we go and play with testers at Sephora or we go to galleries and sometimes when she is not feeling too self conscious, she will draw or paint with me.

In a group, there's always one or two who aren't interested and they're grumpy the whole time so we have different combos for different activities. Eg I watch the Walking dead with the two older kids, I take the two younger ones to the beach. No one will ride bikes anymore.

I feel like we hardly ever do things together as a family and I miss how we used to go to playgrounds and the beach all the time when they were little and compliant and liked having fun. And liked going outside.

So I'm after ideas of what to do with them. What do you do for family bonding time with your kids this age? In our house, it's a lot of screens or individual time these days. Is that just how it is from now on / for a while?
posted by stellathon to Human Relations (17 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
I only have two kids, close to your oldest kids' ages. Hiking is fun, and also movies, picnics... I have to admit, the oldest spends more time with friends, so it depends on what you find acceptable: if family time/activity once a month, twice a month, and so on. In my case, even if we are not doing the very same thing, just being in the same room together feels great. Sorry for not being of better help.
posted by dragonbaby07 at 5:39 PM on October 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

I found that game nights and gardening were two things I could keep on doing with my kids no matter what their age. They're in their 20s now and we still play games together and they're the ones who ask to. We played board games and also video games, and between the picking of the games and the deciding of the all important snacks, we had a lot of fun.

Gardening goes hand in hand with cooking, obvs. Give each kid a dedicated area to plan and plant. Volunteering and co-op gardening too.
posted by the webmistress at 6:25 PM on October 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

I try to do stuff they like as well as basically requiring them to do family stuff without being grumpy jerks about it. So I'll play a video game with my son or I'll just watch him play, and I'll watch Dr. Who with my daughter (admittedly not a hardship for me). And then we'll go out to dinner as a family, or go to the art museum, or to the corn maze, or whatever. It does really help that the two of them are pretty close, and we all genuinely enjoy each other's company. On preview, board games! Yes!

Seriously, I just Do. Not. Accept. that teenagers *have* to be grumpy. It's not like I don't allow them to feel their feelings, but we've always taught them that they aren't allowed to take their bad moods out on us. We don't do it to them, either. If there's something planned and either one of them is legitimately just having a super crappy day, we'll reschedule or cancel. It's only happened a couple times, really. And at those times, they definitely get extra attention or cookies or just understanding from us, whatever they need.
posted by cooker girl at 6:34 PM on October 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

Board game nights and movie nights were two things that our kids continued to so with us through their teen years. Hiking and camping too.
posted by COD at 6:48 PM on October 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have three children now 19, 20 and 21. I feel your pain. While close in age, my three (girl, two boys) are very different and have very different likes. That is good. When they were your children's age we encouraged them to embrace their own identity. The downside to that is, that they still need to learn that there is family time too. Between, school, sports, music lessons, and friends, it is hard to find free time much less 5 people family time.

We found that taking them out to dinner once a week so we could all be together as a family for a meal without them "having to" do this or that, was a big plus. We would let them choose where. SOmetimes it was Dave and Busters and playing video games competitively as a family and sometimes it was some other chain. Whatever, we were together. Also, getting tickets for some event be it a play or a sporting event that had a set time and place helped too. The other thing we did was make Sunday nights family movie night. Popcorn and milkshakes were on the menu. Once you get past the decision on the actual movie, it was great bonding time.

One on one time is great too. That will pay off in the long run. Finally, we found that just as important to all five of us being together was for them as siblings to get together without mom and dad. The pain I felt and the simultaneous pleasure I felt when they would have some inside joke in the car together was enormous.

Also, playing poker as a family was a big hit for some reason. I loved it because I ended up with all the Oreos, but I think my kids and then wife liked it for the family time too.

Finally, they are teenagers. Lower your expectations a little. Wait until they have their drivers license. You will only see them when they need to borrow the car or when you take them on vacation.
posted by AugustWest at 6:56 PM on October 29, 2015 [8 favorites]

posted by buzzman at 7:42 PM on October 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

When my brothers were teens/young adults it was movie nights and poker nights. Usually even if someone started out grumpy it wouldn't last long with those activities...

Oh, and one/all can do the music selection for poker.
posted by pennypiper at 7:50 PM on October 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Mario Kart.

Tomorrow is family night, because it's rare that the three of us are in the same place together anymore. The mister travels a LOT for work, and the 13 year old spends half the week at her grandparents' lately.

We're ordering pizza, mulling some cider, and Mario'ing things up. We got Super Mario Maker and Super Mario U, in addition to Mario Kart. Kid Ruki is going to destroy us, and that's part of the fun. What teenager doesn't want to feel superior over his or her parents?

This time a few years ago, we had no power because hurricane, so we played a lot of Monopoly on the porch. Kid Ruki and the Mister are too cutthroat for my liking, but two thirds of us had a lot of fun with the unexpected forced family time.
posted by Ruki at 7:51 PM on October 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Last summer we discovered that our kids -- age 7, 11, 13, and 16 -- LOVE to go and work on a community farm in our town. Like, champing at the bit two nights a week so they can go do stoop labor in the heat.

Which is to say, damn, you can *never* predict what they'll like. :7) But one thing that stands out for me is that when we arrived at the farm each night we would just turned them loose, and the other adults there treated them respectfully and let them work just like they were Grown-Ups.

Is there something around with a group of volunteers who will let you guys show up and pitch in? I hear our local big food bank is like that, for example, and I know that when we show up the town Senior Center to help assemble the Thanksgiving "Happy Baskets" each year (and again to wrap toys at Christmas), the kids are relatively autonomous for a while and very pleased with the whole thing.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:56 PM on October 29, 2015 [9 favorites]

Doing stuff as a whole family, though, is very difficult as they start to develop a self-image that requires separation from their old, "little kid" identity as always a member of the group. So you may have to accept doing activities in smaller groups.

Sucks, I know. :7(
posted by wenestvedt at 7:57 PM on October 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Teenagers are going to be grumpy, period.

I remember enjoying things like bowling and minigolf around those ages, as long as everyone treated them as goofy and fun, and like the competition didn't matter (you could not keep score and just play -- bowling is more complicated, but one of the best times I had bowling was when we all just took turns regardless of whose name was on the screen).

Things like zoos or botanical gardens can be fun -- less "formal" feeling than museums/galleries and usually a bit more outside. Some historic sites/etc. also have a cheesy fun quality that can be enjoyed by all.

Do you have things like paint-own-pottery places where you are? That can be a fun thing to do (maybe a bit expensive, though).

I still get kind of eye-roll-y now (and I'm in my 30s!) about family board games, but it depends on the game. We're all old, but we all liked Qwirkle quite a bit, which is both skill and luck. Depending on your family, things like Rock Band may work (I more like watching than playing, but it's a fun social thing for everyone to do).

It's tough, and I was definitely a sullen, angsty teen but I still have good memories of being forced into family things. Your kids will survive and maybe even like it.
posted by darksong at 8:03 PM on October 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

What about game night? I don't have kids, but I can tell you this: even when I was a brooding teenager, I liked playing board and card games. If this sounds like an ok idea, try going to your local thrift store to find cheap and/or cool games and have your kids come along and pick out what looks good to them. The ones here have a whole wall of games including classics and lots I've never even heard of. (always check for missing parts!) May I suggest Sorry!, which happens to be the best board game ever?

I'd also suggest puzzles in the off chance your family would enjoy doing one together but it sounds more unlikely.
posted by atinna at 8:54 PM on October 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Mandatory game night after dinner - weekly if you can do it but once a month may be more reasonable when they get a little older. Between differences in age and ability plus someone who got grumpy if it got to cutthroat, it took a few tries to find games that had enough strategy to keep the thinkers interested and enough luck that distracted players could still win but it worked and we all still have good memories of that time.

ps. Eye rolling may be seen as mandatory on part of the teens - don't let that stop you. Judge it by how they are in the middle, not the beginning.

Bowling with the gutter blockers was also good. The better players would make it a point of pride not to bounce off the blockers, the just-for-fun, I-dont-care players could send the ball down any which way and still get a decent score. If you need to downplay the competition more, buy four lines for three players, everyone takes a turn but each person ends up contributing to each of the "official" players scores.
posted by metahawk at 11:22 PM on October 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Dude! You're doing everything right!

My kids are now 23, 21 and 17; I remember the year when my eldest didn't want to do the First Yearly Apple Picking Adventure because it was lame. This event included a ridiculously long drive, a day at the farm, cider donuts, buying bushels of blueberries and fresh peaches, searching for the most perfect apples and petting the farm animals. She was right. I knew all along apple picking day was completely lame but it was OUR lame. Team Kinetic's Special Lame.

When she began that process of separation from family events I was actually glad. Kids are supposed to do this. But of course, we still need that family time.

Here's stuff I did:

* I continued with monthly museum visits. Since my kids were teeny, I always framed museum visits as scavenger hunts ("How many dogs can you find in the MFA?") and then we could have an awesome lunch out at a cool place. So for them, going to museums is something we always did. I just kept going and if anyone wanted to come, they had the choice to come.

* We always had Monday is the night to go out for Tex-Mex because it gives us something to look forward to. Having to go to school after an awesome weekend got a lot better when we knew we had Border Cafe at 5.

* I continued with the hiking and biking and kayaking stuff I always did with them. They were always invited.

* I started signing up for 5k races and almost always, at least one of my kids would want to do the run as well, so we'd train together (which is a joke of course since I run a 12:00 mile).

* Sunday afternoons have always been tea and cakes and we watch Arrested Development. All the Bluths and all the scones and jam and cupcakes and cookies we can eat as we lie on couches.

* All of them still go for pedicures, even the teen boy because he has TROLL FEET and loves getting pampered.

What I'm trying to say is that I didn't really change much because the kids had already a strong grounding in family stuff we did together. I kept doing the stuff I had always loved doing and kept inviting them to join me. Sometimes they came, sometimes they didn't.

When my two eldest come home to visit, they ask if there's a special hike we can do, or the weeks before a visit my daughters will send me info about a cool road race we can do. Or a show at the MFA or the Science Museum.

Just yesterday one of my kids sent me a Thoreau quote on FB and said she was psyched to walk around Walden when she comes home for Thanksgiving.

What I'm saying is that you've laid excellent groundwork. Keep doing what you love to do. What your kids are doing is fine and normal.

And definitely do 1:1 or small group things. My eldest would have been psyched if I ever went to Sephora with her.

*But I will say that I did actively change our vacation game when all of this started. Even the most horrible angsty teen will accept being with you for two weeks if you're going to Hawaii.
posted by kinetic at 2:40 AM on October 30, 2015 [5 favorites]

I was definitely a sullen, angsty teen but I still have good memories of being forced into family things.

Just as an anecdotal counterpoint: I HATED being forced into family things, and as an adult am still kind of resentful about it and do not have good memories of it. Granted, I had a somewhat difficult relationship with my parents in general, but to me their refusal to accept my wish not to accompany them on outings just to satisfy their whims represented another way in which they tried to control and dominate me.

Had they taken the approach of, "ok, don't want to join this time? That's fine, we'll miss you, maybe you'll want to come along another time [or you can suggest another activity you'd prefer]", I'd probably have (eventually) capitulated.

I feel like we hardly ever do things together as a family and I miss how we used to go to playgrounds and the beach all the time when they were little and compliant and liked having fun.

See, this is exactly what I'm talking about. Please do not force your kids into activities they don't want to do just because you feel nostalgic and long for the times they were little and did what you told them to do.

To directly answer your question: if you insist on them joining you for activities, let them suggest what they'd like to do.
posted by ladybird at 4:19 AM on October 30, 2015 [10 favorites]

I want to echo ladybird SO HARD. That was my adolescence too. Even now (my siblings and I are in our thirties), I don't think my parents totally know how to relate to us as adults. So...think of this as the first step in learning how to navigate your changing relationship with your kids. Things will change, and they will keep on changing.
posted by the_blizz at 10:52 AM on October 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

(Side note: I don't remember *ever* getting to choose the activities or the movies.)
posted by the_blizz at 10:53 AM on October 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

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