As our son (age 11) approaches his teenage years, my wife and I want to make sure that we maintain a strong relationship with him. We have seen many teenagers’ relationships with their parents weaken during these years. Those relationships strengthen again after the teen reaches adulthood, but for those few years, many teens appear to want little to do with their parents. My wife and I hope that by allowing our son to have a voice in some of the more minor family matters now that he will feel important enough to want to maintain communication through his teen years. We have found some things in which he can participate in the decision-making process.
First, our son understands that he will still have established rules that he must follow without any negotiation. For example, he will complete all written homework each night before playing his games. He will study for all tests at night before watching his TV shows. He must obey all class and school rules without causing trouble at school. He will complete all chores that we give him for the week before he gets his weekly pay. (We call it pay rather than allowance so he knows that he must earn it.) He must obey these and other rules plus other mandates that we give him or he loses his favorite things such as his computer and game time and privilege of choice. We know that losing his electronics is detrimental to him, so we use that as our first order of discipline.
Again, we want our son to feel important and that his choices matter to us, so we solicit his input for a variety of things. We rotate between the three of us on these items, so that gives each of us a chance to have our favorites at one time or another. Still, he understands that we do have final say and will alter or override his choice if we feel the need.
Our son has learned to cook a few items such as grilled cheese sandwiches, spaghetti, pizza roll-ups, eggs, and cookies. He can also make some very good milkshakes and fruit smoothies. On his turn to choose dinner, we let him pick from these. We will make sure that he uses healthier ingredients such as fat-free cheese or skim milk and fat-free ice cream.
We also rotate who gets to choose the restaurants when we go out to eat. Our rules say that he must have a fruit or vegetable and he cannot have pizza every time. Other than that, he gets his turns to choose. As he has gotten a little older, he has made better choices, and he also remembers what we like. He will sometimes choose a place that has more variety so we can each have our favorites. Other times, he picks his pizza place!
The times come when we just want to stay home and play games together. We give him more say in which games to play. He usually picks a video game, one that he knows he will win, but spending time with him is the important thing here. We ride each other about being too “chicken” to play just to be funny. Then, he goes ahead and slaughters us. Other times, he will want to play a game by himself but still have us sit with him and talk.
· Vacation activities
We usually book our vacations in places that allow each of us to have something that we like. I love Major and Minor League Baseball, my wife loves live entertainment, and our son loves amusement parks, swimming, and game rooms. We will discuss together where to go for our next trip. We belong to a vacation club, so we know the resorts will have the swimming pool and game rooms. Many of them are near baseball cities, live entertainment and amusement/water parks, so the variety exists. As we plan each activity, we each give our input of what we want to do, and we almost always get to do each one.
Building life skills
Allowing our son to help choose these minor matters gives him a sense of importance that we pray will stay with him through his teen years and maintain that strong relationship with us. We also remind him that once he carries out a decision, he must accept the results. If he does not like the results, then he considers his decision more carefully next time. For example, if he spends his money too quickly and then wants something else, he must wait until his next pay and not expect us to give him more before then. We try our best to instill these life skills in him while he is young to make him more responsible as an adult.
More from this contributor:
Spending Time with Our Son: Dad’s Perspective
Setting Strong Positive Examples for Our Son
Keeping Our Eleven-Year-Old Son Active During Fall