As parents, we wonder how to stay in touch with our kids as they grow older. When our children are young, we do everything with and for them, but as they mature and develop, they begin to move out on their own. It begins with friends; then their preferences change. Trying to keep up with them can be work. If we aren’t careful, we’ll wake up one day and not know what our son’s favorite color is or what our daughter’s favorite music is.
Knowing your child is key to keeping those teen year challenges down to a minimum. The question is how do we do this in an ever increasing busy schedule and world. Our family has discovered several ways to stay connected to our kids as they grew.
Play Games with them
The first came about when our twenty-two-year-old was in middle school. My husband, Eric, and I had attended a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway from Family Life. The speaker told about playing Halo with his teens and their friends. It gave him insights into the kids’ lives. We didn’t want to allow our kids to play that mature of a game, but when our son purchased a PSII system and several games, Eric sat down and learned how to play Final Fantasy XII. The whole family would gather around when the little video clips would come on. To this day, I can distinguish the Estersand from Rabanastre and Alchadia from the Lhusu Mines just by the music. I spent numerous hours quilting, drawing, and just watching as the boys played. The sound of the victory dance is echoing through my mind as I write.
Board games also played a role in our family’s ability to know each other. Scrabble was a way we connected with our younger two sons. Our now eighteen-year-old became adept at using words like qi, za, and other random strange words that are in the Scrabble dictionary. He also grew his vocabulary in the process. The whole family enjoys playing Settlers of Catan, an ever changing monopoly style board game. Many Sunday afternoons and evenings were spent bargaining over trades of wool for wheat or brick for ore.
Watch Movies or Shows Together
From the time the kids were little, we would have family movie nights. Often pillow fights erupted as the credits rolled. As the kids got older, we let them choose the movies and watched with them. Hayao Miyazaki became a favorite in the house. At first we weren’t too sure about ones like Spirited Away or Princes Mononoke, but when we actually sat down and watched them, we found a lot of things to discuss with the kids. Castle in the Sky and Howl’s Moving Castle are among my favorite movies.
A year and a half ago, our now nineteen-year-old returned from a year of Rotary Youth Exchange in Finland. She brought back with her a love for anime. She hooked our eighteen-year-old on the genre and our fourteen-year-old. One night last year, our eighteen-year-old asked us to watch some with him. That began our introduction to anime. We’ve enjoyed watching Sword Art Online (SAO), Angel Beats, Anohana, and began watching Rwby. All of these are excellent stories with good discussion points for teens. I would not watch these with younger children. There are some sexual connotations in the beginning episodes of Angel Beats and Anohana, and SAO has violence in it. I’ve found knowing these things has given me the ability to speak with my children’s friends and my students as well.
Read Books Together
This is something parents do with their little ones because it develops reading readiness. We rarely think to read to our teens. However, I’ve enjoyed reading to our family after dinner. When our daughter was away in Finland, we wrote a letter to her in the style of Pendragon writing to Mark and Courtney. It was fun to try to think of ways to tell her news about home in the words of the flumes and territories. This worked because we had been reading the books when she left. Trying to find the right kinds of books to read for the age group will be the issue. Listen to what your kids say. Some of the best books I’ve read have been the ones my kids have said, “Mom, you’ve got to read this.” The Inkheart series would be good for teens and pre-teens, as well as the Dragonback series. You can also explore my pick of books from Children’s Book Week in 2015. Besides reading out loud to your kids, you can choose audio books. These offer a good resource for long car rides.
Have Family Time
Our kids’ love for anime turned into a love for Japan. So, when our friends who are missionaries in Japan came for a visit to the area, we contacted them about having a meal with us. The evening became a highlight of the kids’ year. Our youngest invited three of his friends who love Japan and anime to join us. Our friends brought fun souvenirs, a game of “what are these things?”, and tops for the kids. We learned some Japanese words, and the kids sat around the table talking with adults. Yes, middle school students mingled with adults and a nineteen-year-old for a whole evening.
So, as you consider your own kids, think of what things you can do to stay connected to them. Maybe you’ll find books that they enjoy and read them, or you’ll watch anime or some TV show of their choosing. Whatever you do, unplug from the electronic world long enough to do something together. Learn who your kids are and who their friends are. You’ll be glad you did.