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How to have fun family time with a teenager

One of my teenagers is a bit of a grump at the moment. Put it down to hormones or identity struggles, whatever the cause the result isn’t always pleasant. After dragging him to a barbecue this summer and being rewarded with appalling rudeness (in the presence of my Dad, even worse!), I came to the conclusion that spending family time with a teenager was a doomed project. But after a trip to the Victoria & Albert Museum less than a week later, I changed my mind. Having fun family time with a teenager is possible, but there is definitely a Right Way and a Wrong Way to go about it.

family time with a teenager

The Wrong Way to do family time with a teenager

The barbecue from hell should, on the face of things, have been a simple stress-free affair. A sports club end-of-season barbecue: sausages, fizzy drinks (the ultimate forbidden fruit!), lots of boys of a similar ages with plenty of space to run around in – what’s not to like?

Except it wasn’t his sport’s club, it was his brother’s. And he really really didn’t want to go.

In hindsight, I realise I should have negotiated a compromise (maybe he could have come for half an hour?) or just left him at home. But my Dad was visiting and I had it fixed in my head that we were going to have a Fun Family Night Out. I made the classic parenting mistake of digging in my heels and told the grumpy teen that he was coming whether he liked it or not.

The result, as you might guess, wasn’t the idyllic family time I had in mind. The teen set out (with admirable single-mindedness) to sabotage the entire evening by sitting right next to me with his head laid flat on the table ignoring everyone who spoke to him in a determined silent protest that would have made me proud if only it had been a political demonstration against social injustice rather than a tactic to humiliate his mother. My Dad was shocked, I was mortified and everyone was thoroughly embarrassed. Feat accomplished, point made. (If only he could apply himself so whole-heartedly to maths….).

The Right Way to do family time with a teenager

I have no idea what possessed me to conclude that the antidote to the barbecue from hell was to take the grumpy teen on a museum visit just a week later. To be honest, I was just desperate to get him out of the house and a trip to the Victoria & Albert Museum was the only suggestion I made that he didn’t reject.

We chose a day, agreed the time that we’d leave (not too early for him but not too late for me) and which train we would catch. The ceiling in the V&A cafe is breathtaking – worth a trip to London all by itself – and I really wanted to share it with him. But the teen wanted to take sandwiches for lunch in case there was a queue. I agreed (he tends to be more grumpy if he doesn’t eat….) but on condition that we at least pop into the cafe to see the ceiling.

The day came, we trundled up to town, and we had a great time. There was no moaning, no feet-dragging, he was pleasant company and nobody cried or shouted…. We didn’t linger too long. I let him decide which sections we should visit (I discovered my teen has a passion for sixties furniture, who knew!) with the proviso that we also pop round the fashion section as that’s my favourite. We discussed the arts and crafts movement, marvelled at replica frescoes, had a picnic in the courtyard and stumbled upon a few surprises when we got lost. We enjoyed ourselves!

Family time with a teenager: Essential Checklist!

Now, given the choice between a trip to a highbrow museum and a sports club barbecue, my money would definitely have been on the barbecue as the most likely winner for fun family time with a teenager.

Which got me thinking. What was the difference between the barbecue from hell and the fab V&A visit? Determined to learn from these two experiences (so I can avoid repeating one of them and maximise the chances of the other), I’ve done a bit of analysis and come up with this handy aide-memoire for spending successful family time with a teenager:

  1. Involve them in the planning stages
  2. Collaborate and negotiate, don’t coerce
  3. Keep it short
  4. Factor in their physical needs (sleep, food etc)
  5. Let them lead

It’s not rocket science, I know, but it was definitely learnt the hard way…

If just getting your teenager out of their room is a feat in itself, read: How to get a teenager out of their bedroom. Or, if talking to your teen is challenging then have a look at these Top tips for communicating with teenagers.

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The Work/Parent Switch.

By Anita Cleare

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Practical tips on how to be the parent your child needs and create happy family dynamics (but still do your job!)

22 responses to “How to have fun family time with a teenager”

  1. Lucy says:

    Anita, I love your suggestions! Although, I think they could be applied to planning anything for the family at almost any age. You have to take all those things into account with my five year old daughter and my 89 year old father… but maybe that’s down to the strength of their personalities!

  2. Suzanne says:

    This is brilliant Anita and more than anything else, I’m relieved to find another blogger who writes about teens! My top tip would be to ask them what THEY want to do and make sure that you’re both aware of the expectations beforehand – time to be ready etc. I think they actually really like one on one time, what they definitely do not like is forced family time! Mainly because it involves being told what to do.

  3. Hello Anita,
    what a great post! It is so hard to give our lovely teens the ‘adult’ treatment they crave when they can behave so appallingly, but worth pursuing. Two of my kids are at uni now and we use the family whatsapp a lot to plan get togethers, and they actually really look forward to them and enjoy them, even the ones with grandparents. I also think that as they mix more with other people they realise that family life is not a given.

    • AnitaCleare says:

      Very true – I felt like putting him on the naughty step for being so vile but, of course, that’s impossible these days and also the opposite of what was required. I needed to be more respectful of his wishes and should have found a compromise that would have met everyone’s needs. We live and learn!

  4. This is very helpful, thanks! I know I’ve been guilty of ‘you’re going whether you like it or not!’ and it doesn’t work well at all. This makes a lot of sense.

  5. Amanda says:

    Oh boy! My twins are only 6, so we have a little while before the dreaded teenage years, I dare say these tips will be in use well before then

  6. Am going to bookmark this so I can whip it out in a few years!!! Thanks for the tips!

  7. Well, who knew?! As you say. It’s good for them to learn compromise and I guess as they get older we all have to start doing it more and more. People used to tell me to enjoy my kids while they were little – and lately, I know what they mean – more control! But they are more enjoyable as they get older. Thanks for this 🙂

    • AnitaCleare says:

      It can be a bit of an uncomfortable transition to the teen years if you’re a control junkie (I should know!). But I am living and learning and trying to put theory into practice as best I can!

  8. Lydia C. Lee says:

    It’s an interesting exercise – it’s also hard to tell what will work and what won’t…but good that you keep trying, and how do they know what they like if they don’t get out and explore?

  9. I am bookmarking this for when I have a teen. Lol.
    But come to think of it, teenagers these days are very opinionated and are willing to practice their freedom of speech anytime, anywhere. When I was teenager, I’d go where I’m told and not act up if I don’t want my parents to humiliate me in public. (The Filipino way of raising kids. Lol)

    • AnitaCleare says:

      I do think that times have changed and so have teenagers. Their lives are so full – when I was that age I don’t think there were so many social opportunities so being dragged somewhere by parents didn’t usually mean missing out on something else!

  10. Great advice, and one I will do well to remember in many years to come! I suppose it’s the same with us adults, I tend to be quite sulky when I’m made to do things I don’t want to! Glad you had a good time at the V&A. It is lovely there. Thanks for sharing on #MondayEscapes

  11. PRiya says:

    I have a teenager and couldn’t agree more on the 5 points you mention. Letting let lead is the biggest one, if they are incharge, then they are engaged 🙂

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