Should We Force Teens To Participate In Family Gatherings?

I’ve been hearing lately from readers who are parenting teens (or who will be in the near future). Recently I answered a question about parenting teens on my advice column Ask the Mom at TheMid.com and I thought I’d share it here today. I hope you enjoy! -Meagan

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Help me out here, Meagan.

A few friends invited my family to start a regular, once-a-month Sunday dinner night with them. We all take turns hosting and bringing sides and dessert, while our collective eight kids go nuts together. It’s great! The problem is that all the kids are age 9 and younger, except for my 13-year-old daughter—and she’s starting to dread these gatherings. Understandably so, since she ends up being glommed onto by small children or shooed away from the adult conversation. How can we make the evening more palatable to her? Just let her surf Instagram the entire time? Do we excuse her from coming altogether? What she really wants is for us to quit hanging out with these friends so much, but the rest of us are having fun. I’d love your take, wise one!

-M

Ah, M. You’re experiencing firsthand the challenges of trying to placate teens without completely absolving them of social and family obligations. My approach? Compromise. It isn’t wrong to expect your daughter to suck it up and allow you to enjoy a once-a-month family event, even if it isn’t her cup of tea. But it’s also fair to make some concessions considering she’s the only one not getting much out of it.

Would it be possible or palatable for your daughter to take on a new—ahem, paid—role of babysitter to the rest of the kids? She may feel like she’s getting roped into that role already, only without the cash … which could be adding to her aversion. But if she likes kids in general, she may jump at the chance to act in a more official role.

Or, could your daughter attend just part of the get-together? We started this routine when my teen sons got old enough to be disinterested in hanging out with their much-younger sibs and cousins at my brother’s house all the time. Often they’ll come just for the hour or so before dinner, then after they eat, they’re welcome to walk home (we live close by). That way they’ve put in an appearance but don’t have to give up a whole evening.

If physically going home mid-gathering isn’t an option for your daughter, maybe you could require that she engage with company for an hour or so (no fair shooing her away from the adult table during that time!), then let her feel free to surf Instagram, study or read. You can even ask your hosts about finding her a relatively private space where the little kids won’t start climbing on her. Hey, they’ve all been teenagers before … they should understand!

I know how fun those multi-family gatherings can be, M, as well as how tricky it can be to balance a teen’s wants with the rest of the family’s. Best of luck finding a solution that makes everyone happy!

Can you relate to this mom’s dilemma? Leave a comment below and let us know how you’ve dealt with your teen’s participation in family gatherings. And I’d love to have you read more of my articles and my regular column, Ask The Mom, at The Mid! 

Have a question you’d like me to answer? Send it to askthemom@themid.com: you can stay anonymous and I always strive to be compassionate, encouraging, and most of all, helpful in my answers. 

© 2015 Meagan Francis, as first published on The Mid.

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