I used to love heading to my daughter’s elementary school at 2:15 every day to chat with the other parents around the school doors as we waited for the bell to ring. The kids were always happy to see me socializing with other parents when they burst out of the school, as they knew that this meant they’d have extra time to play in the schoolyard. Afterward, we would often take a quick detour to a convenience store on the way home to stop for a Slurpee. I would blast music, and we would all sing songs in the car as I drove the long way home. These were fun times filled with laughs and love.
After 10 years of two kids ascending the ranks of elementary school, I never thought that I would miss the hustle of the after-school routine. But now, parenting high-schoolers, I’m finding there is less and less time to create quality moments—the kids are more engaged in their phones, their homework, and their friends, which makes my slice of quality time with them infinitely smaller.
Even though it’s harder, I’m always searching for creative ways to make moments with my teens to show them how much I love them. Sometimes they are resistant, but I’m convinced that, even if they don’t outwardly show it, these simple gestures are often exactly what they need:
1. Tuck Them Into Bed at Night
It seems simple, but since many times they’re staying up later than we are, it can be an effort to wait up for them and then spend some time in their rooms before lights-out. Sometimes I bring in an extra blanket and roll them up like a burrito. At the very least, we get some laughs out of it, and I still love the time I spend tucking them in.
2. Tell Them Stories About When They Were Babies
My oldest loves to hear the story about the time that we forced her to eat broccoli nuggets when I was trying to get her to eat more vegetables. And my youngest loves hearing how she could sing before she could talk.
3. Take Them for a Coffee Date
More often than not, we’re running from activity to activity, juggling our time, so we don’t always get time to sit eye-to-eye. I find carving out 30 minutes to sit in a coffee shop and share a warm drink and a snack is the perfect way to get my teens to open up and talk.
4. Have a Cutoff Time for Phone Usage
This can be a family rule or a kids-only rule, but if everyone has put their phones away by 8 or 9 p.m., it allows for a little bit of extra family time. Your teens won’t like it at first, but they will one day learn to appreciate that precious family time—even if it takes a few years…or a decade.
5. Hold Their Hand
I’ve found that asking questions in the car after school can illicit mostly one-word answers. Taking the time to reach out and hold my daughter’s hand seems to open up her heart, and she will start talking more than if I simply ask her questions.
While I sometimes long for the simple chaos of the elementary school days, having teenagers has helped me become more cognizant of how I communicate with my children. Even if it is in small snippets, the thing that they want most from us is our time and love.