When my kids were young I often encountered moms with older kids who would say, "Enjoy them while they are young!" along with the old adage, "Bigger kids equal bigger problems." I would roll my eyes and think to myself, "They obviously have no idea how physically taxing it is to have four kids under the age of 5 — three of which are in diapers."
Contributed by Christa O’Leary
Now, more than 10 years later, I understand what those moms meant and sometimes wistfully look back to the days when my kids spent most of their existence under my watchful eye.
Tweens and teens have opinions that often differ from their parents, they begin the foray into the land of the opposite sex, navigate the uncharted social media landscape and more often than parents realize, they are offered mind-altering substances. These are all good reasons why parents should think about making their home the go-to place for their kids and their friends. Let's look at some easy ways to make that happen.
My husband often tells stories of how all of his friends growing up loved coming to his house. He explains that it wasn't for a huge stash of shiny toys (because they lived modestly), and it wasn't for the food (because they were vegetarians and most of the options were things like tofu — which were virtually unheard of in mainstream America 20 years ago). What brought these teenagers to his home was his parents' welcoming and engaging attitude. Everyone that entered immediately felt like part of the family. There were easy conversations filled with fun, playful banter and philosophical perspectives. Everyone's opinions were heard and encouraged even if the adults had a different view. Tweens and teens are more likely to want to be part of an environment where they feel welcomed and are encouraged to be part of a conversation.
In my experience kids are able to adapt to new people and situations more readily through play. This holds true for 2-year-olds, teens and all those in between. We have found that by incorporating games into teenage gatherings the laughter can be heard — which helps to melt away any adult-interaction awkwardness. I love when my son has his high school friends over and they are playing Can-Jam or badminton in the backyard. I will engage them by bringing out drinks or snacks and my husband will razz them about their Frisbee prowess. Giving them the option of different activities helps to keep them having fun and wanting to come back for more.
Food and drinks are advantageous to any gathering. This is true when you bring out the goldfish crackers at play group, serve adults appetizers or feed hungry teenage boys and girls. You just need to know your audience. Teenage girls are probably not going to dive into the buffalo chicken wings and get all messy the way teenage boys will find it thrilling. Pick a few favs and they will keep coming back for more.
Last summer my husband and I had biked back to our beach house midway through the day to grab snacks. To our surprise, our 14-year-old son was flipping burgers for a gang of bathing-suit clad friends while the tunes were blasting. The scene brought me back to my college days. We all earned many things from the situation. It also made me realize that teenagers actually like to participate in the preparation of a gathering — whether it be grilling burgers, making pizzas or baking cookies. It actually helps them feel in control of their situation in a world where things can be very uncertain. Give them this latitude — which will help with their attitude — and increase the chance that your home will be the go-to spot.
Speaking of tunes... this is another way that kids express themselves. Give them some leeway in this area. My son has a playlist that he puts on when he is entertaining his friends that is kid and parent approved. We listen to his playlist that he has assembled with tunes he knows we are comfortable listening to and are appropriate for his youngest sibling's ears. Music is a big atmosphere enhancer and when managed well can be enjoyed by tweens, teens and their parents.
I am amazed at how often I am the last to know that one of my kid's friends have already left the house without me knowing they have been picked up. More often than not, parents text their kids to say they are waiting in the driveway and to just come out to them. This disrupts the natural ability to connect with other parents. This disconnect gives kids a greater bandwidth of unsupervised freedom. How do these parents know that I am really home? Parent-to-parent interaction is fundamental in keeping kids safe during these formative years.
Making your home the go-to spot for kids of all ages ensures that you know what your kids are up to, how they interact with their friends and if you like the dynamics of their group. Knowing who they are with and where they are can relieve some of the stress associated with raising tweens and teens. These simple tips will help make your home the hotspot hangout.
About the author
Christa O’Leary, MA, MFT, founder and CEO of Home in Harmony Lifestyle is an Interior Designer, Marriage & Family Therapist and Green Living expert. She teaches people how to ‘Design Inspired Living’. As a motivational speaker, up-and-coming Hay House Radio show host and author, Christa gives people concrete solutions to live their best life by creating an inspired, healthy, vibrant home, body, mind and spirit. Visit christaoleary.com/free-gift/ to receive tips on how to Design your Inspired Life! For more information visit christaoleary.com.
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