teenager girl with father play soccer

The teenage years can be confusing for teenagers and parents alike. If you are trying to determine how to improve your relationship with your teen, you are not alone. Increasing quality time can strengthen your relationship with your teen. 


During a time of transition for their family, my in-laws, Randy and Deanne noticed that their relationships with their teenage sons were becoming strained. Between a move to a new town, the start of a new job, sports camps, theater auditions, and the search for new friends, my in-laws were overwhelmingly busy and the boys felt unsure of how to find their niches in this new situation. 


Feeling a need to connect better, they began planning fun activities like cook offs and game nights more frequently. They made more time for one-on-one activities with the boys. These fun family activities helped them to better connect with their sons–and really understand them. Although the boys were reluctant at first, this family time helped them to see that their relationship with their parents could be enjoyable and comforting, especially in times of stress.


While the teenage stereotype suggests that teens are aloof and uninterested in their parents during the teenager years, research has found that teens continue to desire to connect and spend time with their parents. Often teens want to play board games or participate in outdoor activities with their parents. This quality time with parents is associated with many benefits for teens including better social skills, higher self-esteem, higher performance in school, and fewer behavioral problems.


To help you bring these benefits to your family, here are a few research-based suggestions to help you improve the quality of the time you spend with your teen: 


Let Your Teen Choose the Family Activity


Allowing your teen to participate in planning family activities gives your teen real influence on family decisions and this leads to a greater sense of autonomy. One way that Deanne made quality time more comfortable for the boys was to encourage them to choose some of the family activities. One son often suggests bowling, and although he is the only family member who really loves bowling, everyone enjoys the opportunity to see him celebrate a strike. Meanwhile, the 15-year-old wanted to practice driving by taking the truck off-roading, giving Deanne a great opportunity to learn where every possible handhold is located in the truck. 


Listening to and using your teen’s suggestions provides evidence that you trust in your teen. When your teen knows that they are trusted, they will be happier, more self-motivated, and more confident. 


You may be worrying about the kinds of activities your teen will choose. Maybe you’re afraid all they will want to do is play video games or do something expensive, but research shows that most teens would rather challenge their parents to a favorite board game or participate in an outdoor activity. But, it’s possible they might choose to challenge you in a head-to-head video game. If so, allow yourself to get out of your comfort zone and accept what will surely be defeat. Your teen is sure to get a good laugh out of it, and all along the way you’ll be making it more likely that they will be willing to participate in a future activity that might be uncomfortable to them. 


My in-laws have found that the most popular family activities are those that are fun and require participation from everyone. They’ve discovered that for their family completing logic and mystery puzzles together has worked since each challenge allows a different family member to showcase their strengths. When everyone is having fun together, natural lines of communication seem to open up. Through the relaxed nature of these activities, they came to understand their children’s interests and opinions even better. 


Make Time for One-on-One Attention


Giving your teen individualized attention also helps to strengthen your relationship and lead to positive behaviors. My in-laws make time for individual activities by regularly picking a night where one child can choose an activity to share with them while everyone else in the house goes to bed. This may be as ordinary as watching a TV show or playing a game together or as spontaneous as a late-night run for ice cream. 


These activities do not need to always lead to deep conversations or involve costly activities to really hit their mark. Simply setting aside phones, emails, and the housework that still needs to be done lets teens know that they are important. Spending one-on-one time with your teen now is like putting money in the bank that you can draw from when your relationship is tested. Not only that, but it can lead to positive behaviors throughout the teen’s life.


Don’t Expect Immediate Results


When you go out of your way to do something fun with your teen, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking everything is going to be wonderful. But unfortunately, a teenager is still a teenager, and chances are there will still be some complaining, resisting, or ingratitude. If you’re expecting total bliss, then you’ll likely be caught off guard and find yourself getting frustrated and delivering the parental speech of the week. Instead, expect some bumps in the road and when they occur, just keep your eye focused on the goal and stay positive.


Remember, your teen is likely to be uncertain about how to relate with you if the activities are new. But, as you continue to make time with your teen they will become more and more comfortable with each new activity. 


Over time and across years, your efforts will pay off. One of my husband’s fondest memories from his teenager years is the way they lived their family motto of “Work hard, play hard.” He remembers every Saturday being family time, starting with yard work in the morning and ending with a family movie night and homemade caramel popcorn or going out for an activity such as a round of miniature golf.  


Although there can be many rocky times through these years, including overcoming resistance, making schedules work, and planning memorable activities, prioritizing quality time can help create the same shared warm memories for teens and parents. Families will benefit as they intentionally create a culture with activities everyone will enjoy. As teens feel comfortable and connect, they will be building lasting memories and creating stronger relationships with parents that can be theirs for a lifetime.  

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