As our kids get older, often the routines and rituals that were common in their early years have a tendency to fall away one by one.
And while it is appropriate to let some things go, for instance most teenagers really don’t want their mom bathing them anymore or taking them to play at the park, there are some parts of our life that we should fight to continue.
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During these years, SO much is changing for our teens. They are dealing with a developing brain, facing increased academic pressure, and managing a variety of complex relationships.
They can feel like nothing is constant or reliable anymore.
That is why they need us to maintain some of those comforting rituals and fun family traditions. It provides a sense of security and stability for them.
They may complain, and there will most definitely be some eye-rolling.
But whether they admit it or not, these are parts of their life that are truly meaningful. These are the times when our teens can connect with us and open up about what is going on in their lives. It’s also where they can retreat and find a safe space from the pressures they face at school and from their peers.
Related: 8 Simple and Creative Ideas to Connect with Your Teen or Tween
Some of these rituals and traditions may not look the way they used to look or happen as often, but you can still find ways to make them fit into a busy life with teenagers.
The first thing to notice is that this says “family meals,” not “family dinners.”
Here’s the deal, if you’ve got teenagers, trying to have regular dinners is almost impossible. Between school activities, friends, dating, sports, and homework, you’re lucky if everyone is actually eating dinner at all, let alone all together.
But sharing meals together during this stage of their life is more important than ever.
In fact, studies show that teenagers that have regular meals with their families are less likely to engage in risky behaviors or suffer from depression.
Why is this, you may ask? Because teens who eat with their families feel more connected to their families.
Family meals are the time when our teens are more likely to share what is going on in their lives, and it also provides a chance for parents to check in and just see how things are going. You may not always find your teen to be enthusiastic about dining with mom and dad or even all that chatty, but it’s still important to make it a priority.
To make family meals successful, set up a few ground rules.
No tech at the table is a big one and applies to everyone. Also, agree that hot-button topics (curfews, homework, etc.) will be off-limits during this time, as will parental lectures.
Another important element to maintaining a time when all the family eats together is flexibility. Many nights, schedules don’t make it easy to have dinner together.
Consider sending everyone off with a substantial snack to evening activities and then have a lighter dinner later when everyone is home again. Or it may just be a before-bed snack of a bowl of cereal shared together. Meals don’t have to be homemade or even all that special. The face-to-face interaction is what counts, not what’s actually being served.
Weekends are also a great time to squeeze in a family meal. Weekend nights are usually spoken for when it comes to your teen’s social life, but what about a regular family breakfast or brunch? It doesn’t have to be every weekend, but maybe twice a month. Pull out that old waffle maker you haven’t used in forever or go to everyone’s favorite brunch spot.
You will never regret traveling with your teen.
Taking time away from everything as a family during the teen years is something you don’t want to give up. Families are pulled apart in so many directions in today’s go go go culture. Sometimes it can get to the point that you feel like strangers passing each other in the halls of your home. It can also leave all of you feeling stressed out, frazzled, and exhausted.
Every one of you needs a break and a chance to spend quality time together. It’s also just a few short years before these teens of yours will be heading off to college and starting their own lives. Now is when you want to take advantage of these last chances to solidify their foundation and build memories as a family.
You can up the likelihood of their willing participation by involving them in the planning. Let them have some say in where you go or what activities will be on the agenda. It can be a great way to sneak in a few life skill lessons while giving them a chance to share their interests and ideas.
Tucking Them In At Night
It may sound corny, but your teens aren’t too old to be tucked in at night.
Don’t make it some over-the-top production. Keep it simple.
Sit on the edge of their bed, do a quick check-in for what’s ahead of them tomorrow and then give them a little hug or peck on the cheek. If it makes more sense because your bed times aren’t aligned, ask your teen to come up to your room before heading to bed (some of the best conversations with my teen daughters were sitting in my bed!)
But be prepared, the process may not be as quick as you think.
This is another one of those rare opportunities our teens have to connect with us, and you may find it’s when they suddenly have tons to share.
As the day slows down and they head to bed, this is often when those worries they don’t have time to focus on at any other time start to weigh on our teens.
Accept the invitation to engage if offered, settle down next to them, and then just let them talk. And if they don’t open up, this is an opportunity to show that you are staying available to them.
Don’t try to tackle big issues or solve problems, it’s too late, and you’re both tired.
Just listen because that’s probably what they need most. If there is more to be addressed, let them know that they’ve been heard and suggest a better time the next day to address anything outstanding.
Also, if, like me, you go to bed earlier than your teens some nights, you can still “tuck” them in.
It’s the what you’re doing, not the where that matters.
Check in with them, give them a little squeeze or peck on the head, and tell them you love them. It is reassuring for them to know that there will always be that last touch point with you each night.
Show Physical Affection
There was a time in our lives when we could barely pry our children off of us.
It was almost like they were just another appendage. Then, almost overnight, it can feel like even a slight brush against your skin makes them pull back like they’ve been burned by fire.
Even if your teens aren’t quite that bad when it comes to showing physical affection, the chances for hugs and kisses and cuddles are far far fewer as you enter the tween and teen years.
Related: Dear Teen Son, Thank You For The Hugs
But no matter how much they protest, that physical touch is essential for them. Again, it’s about the connection and the comfort. And sometimes, when our kids aren’t getting that healthy parental physical contact, they can look for the wrong kinds of physical affection from the wrong people.
Navigating that transition in physical affection between parent and child during the teen years can be difficult. It can feel a bit awkward, and there is a desire to respect their space and boundaries, but that doesn’t mean it should end all together.
Your teen may not be sitting on your lap when you watch TV together anymore, but you can still sit close to them and just put a hand on their arm.
If they’re embarrassed about hugs or kisses in front of their friends, then give them a hug or kiss before you leave the house.
And hugs don’t always have to be big bear hugs. Side hugs are totally acceptable, and so is a quick peck on the top of the head when they’re sitting at the table having a snack or doing homework.
Don’t make a big deal about any of it, just make it a normal part of how you interact.
Saying “I Love You”
Your big kids may not be as willing to say “I love you” frequently to you these days, but you better believe they still need to hear it. Most of our teenagers will go through many periods when they really question their value. They may feel like they aren’t good enough for any number of reasons, and they may even feel like they are letting you down in some way.
These three little words have so much power. Saying them often is a constant reminder and reinforcement of their value to us and a reassurance that no matter what is going on, we will always love them.
Don’t let your kids leave you for the day without making sure they hear at least once. And let it be some of the final words they hear from you every night before they close their eyes.
You might be pleasantly surprised to find them returning the words more regularly.
The teen years can make us questions our gut instincts as parents. Plus, the hectic schedules can make it all too easy for us to let the important things go, especially when our teens may not be fully on board. The thing is, they don’t always know what they need, but most teens are pretty sure it’s not us. On this one, they are wrong. A strong connection with their mom and dad and their family provides security and comfort and a solid foundation for their future.
It’s worth fighting for, and sometimes it’s as simple as sitting down to pizza together, giving their arm a little squeeze as they head out the door, or just saying “I Love You.”
Lighting up when they come home
Remember when your child would jump off the bus or come running out of school because they were so excited to see you? Your face would light up as you gave them a hug and eagerly asked about their day.
We need to still do that for our pre-teens and teens. We need to light up when they walk through the door–no matter how they respond.
When your big kid walks through the door, you may have no idea what kind of day they had. They might have been embarrassed by friends or felt bad because of a bad grade. They could have been snubbed by some one they cared about or put down by another student.
We have the opportunity to ease that pain for them by being their light.
They may not appreciate it at the time, but they will always appreciate coming home to a place where they feel safe, warm and welcomed.
Nothing is better than hearing a kid laugh, except making your teen laugh.
Don’t be scared to put some old-school tunes on and dance before dinner. Watch some silly YouTube videos. Celebrate obscure holidays and tell bad jokes.
Let your teen know it’s okay to let their guard down and how much you enjoy their company. They might complain a little bit, but they will also appreciate your effort (maybe not at that moment, but someday.)
Plus, acting a little goofy let’s your teen know that it’s okay for them to hold onto their childhood a little longer. As the rest of the world tells them it’s time to grow up, they know they can still be a kid in your presence.
Are you in the thick of raising your tweens and teens? You may like this book by Whitney Fleming, the co-owner of Parenting Teens & Tweens: Loving Hard When They’re Hard to Love: Essays about Raising Teens in Today’s Complex, Chaotic World.
Parenting Teens and Tweens is challenging, but we’ve got the help and support you need.
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