The Best Way to Stay Engaged with Teens: Forced Family Fun

Some time is longer
than the rest—
and some
is very short.
— Emily Dickinson

Our time with these teenagers is short, though it is endless.

We tend to wish away the years until the doppelgangers are replaced by our old, familiar, loving progeny.

Forgive me for so quickly moving from the Belle of Amherst  to a more contemporary (yet equally controversial) source, but Matthew McConaughey (in addition to making those bizarre Lincoln commercials, spoofed by Ellen in equally odd fashion) lately said something profound. It was really Jay Leno who said it: he advised a young Matthew, upon his nervous first Tonight Show appearance, to "act like you want to be here." Mr. McConaughey, on his last spot with Jay, thanked the host for advice which has changed his perspective and made things easier, time after time.

While raising, living with, and doing the laundry of our teenagers, we do best to act like we want to be here. To that end, I recommend "forced family fun" with teenagers. Keep your expectations low; remember, you are essentially hanging out with toddlers, and they are not known for their relaxing qualities. While driving slowly through another red-rock canyon on our annual "forced family fun" Colorado vacation, we try to act like we want to be there. Most of the time, we fail. But amidst the bickering and ennui inspired by these times together, we find ways to laugh. We make memories. As always, fleeting moments of joy shared with teenagers is worth the pain of getting there. Give thanks; bank the memory; forget the horrible parts; do it again and again.

Parents, let us act like we want to be here for these few remaining years with our children still in the nest. Let us engage with them so we KNOW who they really are. Let us open our eyes to any real danger so we can PROTECT them on their journey toward adulthood. Let us HONOR them enough to let them fail; let us always remind them that they are worthy of our love. Before we know it--the time is very short--they will be grown and gone. These final years together will be so much sweeter if we try not to wish them away and instead find ways to enjoy them. Force a little regular family fun. I promise, you won't regret it.



Regardless of how you feel about him, you might not mind the visual. :-)

Surf's Up; Dig Deep: Great Moments in Parenting History, I

Watching great parents in action gives me a little thrill. They do it effortlessly. In the heat of the moment, in public, in any circumstance at all, great parents KNOW, PROTECT and HONOR their children.

One of my favorite Great Parenting Moments happened when the father in question was waist-deep in the Pacific Ocean. Our friend Chris, a local Maui boy, was teaching our mainland sons how to surf. Meanwhile, his seven-year-old daughter Kiele paddled around the gentle waves, practicing on her own board. After half an hour on the water, Kiele had floated far enough away to panic us land-lubbers. Her daddy, however, kept calm.


Chris knew exactly where his daughter was without training his eyes on her constantly. An island native himself raising three Maui girls, he knows Kiele’s strength as well as the conditions of the water. Chris also knew the currents at this particular beach; even if his daughter drifted away helplessly, she would eventually float around a lava outcropping into a shallow eddy on the other side.


Kiele is an experienced spear fisher who accompanies her daddy on increasingly challenging dives, but Chris doesn’t take her out in really rough water. He has taught her to respect the inherent dangers of the ocean and keep safety in mind; he has given her the skills and tools to  save herself in crisis. Chris challenges his adventurous daughter within the limits of her age, size and ability. The ocean that day seemed wild and dangerous to us, but to Chris and Kiele, it was like a stroll through a neighborhood park.


As we stood worried on the shore, as Kiele drifted ever further from our party, Chris calmly turned to his little girl and called, “Dig deep!” It was a champion moment of parenting. Within the boundaries of knowing and protecting her, he honored his daughter’s ability to figure it out for herself. “Dig deep” reminded Kiele to use her many resources to get out of a tough situation. And she did.

I suspect this girl will be able to do exactly the same in later years, when teenagers find themselves in different kinds of tough situations. Don’t we all long for our teenagers to “dig deep,” call upon their inner strength, and paddle away from all kinds of danger? 

***In this case, names have NOT Been changed to protect the innocent. Good parenting comes with few daily rewards; Chris should hear the shout-out. Credit is due, too, to his lovely wife Aki, who is fierce in her own million ways. :-)

And here, for your entertainment: my favorite movie clip about surfing, and a photo of the actual girl who knows how to dig deep (and, as she demonstrates here, how to spear fish).