Gift Guide to Foster Conversation Between You and Your Teen

December 7, 2018

Ways you can give your teen the gift of a stronger family this holiday season and throughout the year. 

The Christmas wish lists of teenagers through the ages may not be exactly the same. Today’s teens are likely asking for their own smartphone or headphones and other high-end electronics, while teenagers in past decades might have asked for a transistor radio, a Walkman, a Gameboy, or the latest top-charting rock ’n’ roll album.

But they all have something in common: They all are things that represent independence, a separation from their parents to being their own person.

So what if you want to gift your kids something that will foster conversation, closeness, and camaraderie?

Here are a few ideas for under the tree, or to try throughout the year.

Hit the road, Jack

Nothing says “togetherness” like being trapped in a car for an extended period of time. But these can be the best times for meaningful conversations. And if you wrap it up with a promising payoff at the end of it, it’s a win-win. Pick a destination together: Maybe it’s to a favorite spot or somewhere new for both of you. Maybe it’s somewhere your child has always wanted to go, or someplace dear to you that you can share with the next generation.

This trip, after all, is really about the journey.

If your teenager groans at the thought of this, you may just be at the beginning of every great family road trip movie ever made, and by the end of it, you’ll have bonded over the spontaneity, the 3 a.m. pit stop for snacks, and the general sense of adventure.

This trip can be a quick weekender or something more extravagant over Spring Break or summer vacation. But with a trip like this, you’re giving the gift of quality time, and someday—maybe not today or tomorrow or the better part of a decade—but they’ll come to appreciate it.

Game night

Your teenagers may not be interested in the “family game night” staples, like Yahtzee, Clue, or Monopoly. Not that there’s anything wrong with those games, but inviting your teens to join the grown-ups’ table for game night may make spending time with Mom and Dad a bit more interesting. One or both of you may end up raising an eyebrow a time or two, but that’s part of the fun.

Pop culture trivia games surrounding a favorite TV show or movie can mask “quality time” with something they are already interested in and care about. Check out this list of top board games for teens.

If your family isn’t into games, try a craft night, or karaoke. Anything that requires you to interact with each other will work as a good base for bonding.

Foster their hobbies and interests

The University of Illinois explains that while teenagers want to make their own decisions, they also want parents to show an interest in their lives.

Find out what their interests are and help them go for it. There’s likely a workshop at a local university or business for the community. For example, if they spend a lot of time writing fan fiction in their bedroom, sign up for a writer’s conference. If they love making videos on their phone, find a movie-making workshop or photography class. And consider attending yourself. By participating together, you can support your child’s hobbies, interests, and talents while getting some one-on-one time to talk.

Support their interest with a subscription to a magazine. Whether it’s skateboarding, drawing, making movies, animals, there’s a magazine to support it. And if you’re able, try finding lessons, a meeting with an area expert, or tickets to a professional event that you can go to together.

Taking an interest in what they like is also a good way to support them and give you something to talk about. My mother once said she spent many years listening to sports talk radio in the car so she could talk to my sports-obsessed brother when he was in junior high and high school. She created some common ground between them by going to a subject matter where he was comfortable.

Give them space

It might be hard to remember how you really felt when you were a teenager. Hindsight is 20/20 after all. But one consistent aspect of the teenage years is needing space. While you may not be able to wrap it up and put it under the tree, give your teen a night off from some obligations: A free week from house chores, or being excused from an activity they don’t really enjoy. Make it clear that you understand that you know it can be tough being a teenager today. Let them know that your door is always open, that you’re ready to talk and listen when they need you, and then wait until they decide to shed the headphones or come out from behind their hooded sweatshirt. And when they do, be ready to stop what you’re doing and listen. You may learn a thing or two as well. Don’t make assumptions about what their lives are like.

By taking an active interest in your teen’s life, even if it feels like they don’t want you to, you are helping to build a strong foundation and a bond between parent and child that will help them grow into a healthy adult.

Jessica Eyre is a writer and marketing strategist. She loves movies, going to see live music, and has a firm belief that most any life situation can be related to an episode of “Seinfeld.” She is a mother who does her best “I’m interested” face when hearing about the latest YouTube video her kids want to re-enact for her, and yet, at the same time, finds them to be the most interesting people she knows.

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