Some time last year we realised we were not spending much quality time together. Between work, school, and the Mudge’s semi-weekly sport practice, we had relatively few evenings together, and too often we were spending those working on our own projects. After one too many nights with our faces buried into our individual screens, we declared “enough”, and made a plan to start some positive traditions. Now, nearly without fail, Tuesday is Family Night in our house.
The key to making family night work is consistency. If something unavoidable comes up which interferes, we make sure to reschedule later in the same week. The Mudge really enjoys the routine of family night, and he is pretty key to keeping us on track, reminding us beforehand or making suggestions about what we should do.
Family nights with a teen are a bit different than whenhe was younger. In some ways, it is more fun for us as parents. I mean, I’m not saying you don’t love the pure joy radiating from your younger children’s faces when you give them the attention they need and desire, but let’s not pretend you’re loving the umpteenth game of Candy Land, okay? No need to hide it from me. I’ve been there and know better.
In contrast, quality time with teens is a lot closer to hanging out with a friend. We often enjoy the same games or movies, and teens are far more likely to enjoy the conversational aspect of lingering over a meal than their younger counterparts. It opens up a broad range of options for ways to stay entertained over what is available when your kids are younger.
There is a ton of information online with ideas about how to entertain younger children, but suggestions for activities to engage teenagers is sparse in comparison. While I don’t claim to be a parenting expert, I thought it might be useful to share what we do together for family night with a teenaged boy. Most of these suggestions are adaptable for age-appropriateness. If that means Candy Land for you, well, bon courage! from one who’s been there. I also realise there are a ton more ways we could be spending our family nights in order to keep things fresh, so I’ve shared a few things as well that I plan to try.
How we spend family night
Listening to Audiobooks
When the Mudge was younger, I read chapter books out loud to him. Listening to audiobooks was a natural progression. Our family began to listen to audiobooks together starting on road trips but now we cozy up in the living room to listen, sort of like families used to do when radio was the biggest thing going on in entertainment.
The really great thing about audiobooks is the discussions that pop up around the story. We talk about what is happening in movies, but the character depth in books is typically so much greater than in films and gives much more material to analyse. Plus, when you listen to a book with others, you’ve got someone around who understands the tragedy when you mourn the deaths of fictional characters. Yes, we are those kind of people.
Playing Board Games
Most recently we have started playing Carcassonne. Have you heard of it? It is not a new game, but is new to us. I was obsessed with trying when I first heard of it, because we spent autumn a couple of years ago very near to the city of Carcassonne, France. The game is a tiled strategy puzzle game, easy enough for about 7 years and up, but sophisticated enough to be plenty entertaining for older players. I love how versatile it is. Like Settlers of Catan, it has expansions which can keep it fresh for a long time.
Hyyge it up
No need for gesundheit. I didn’t sneeze, I just introduced you to the Danish concept of hyyge. You may have already heard of it, the word for which no direct English translation exists, but which roughly means: companionable cosiness. Not to jump on the favorite hip-blogger bandwagon, but… well… I’m jumping. It is just too relevant for our new Scottish climate lifestyle. Edinburgh’s northern latitude and frequent overcast means we’ve had to adjust to less light for half the year (and more light during summer, but that’s another story).
Finally coming out of winter, we’ve had quite a lot of hygge practice recently. We assemble a tray of herbal tea and some snacks, light candles or turn on the fairy lights, and engage in our family night activities. The fact is, hyyge is a trending concept because it is such a great idea. Teens are just as susceptible to enjoyment of hygge as the rest of us. Embracing this concept is kind of the foundation for our family night, and is how we survive the dark northern winters without succumbing to sadness.
Watching a Movie (or TV Show)
I prefer to keep family night as screen-free as possible, all things considered, but watching shows together is certainly more bonding than if we are on our computers, individually doing our own thing. Usually, we watch something at home and I make popcorn on the stove (some tips on how to do that coming soon!), but occasionally we walk down to the cinema nearby to catch something on the big screen. We’ve been re-watching the Matrix trilogy, lately, and in the theatre we really loved Hidden Figures a few weeks ago.
In writing about how we spend family night, I realised our routine has gotten a little bit boring and needs a fresh spring update. Here are a few more ideas which I want to implement or do more of in the coming weeks:
Taking a Walk
Now before you harass me for suggesting this, hear me out. As I mentioned above, the flip-side of dark winters is long light in the evenings in the warmer months. Also, family night activities should play to your family member’s interests. The Mudge is pretty fitness interested. I know you either fall into one of two camps: either you already take walks with your family and don’t need my suggestion, OR you wish you did more walks and feel a little guilty about it. Or you don’t care, won’t walk, and should probably just skip to the next suggestion, okay?
Truth is, the walks we have taken together are one of my favorite things. Scott and I have taken an occasional evening stroll, or the Mudge has come in and insisted I need to come outside for a particularly beautiful cloud-shine or sunset. I taught the Mudge to embrace the Scottish sunshine in the moment, since you can’t predict when it will happen or how long it will last. It is always nice to get outdoors and be reminded how amazingly beautiful Edinburgh can be. We don’t walk as often as I would like, and our walks seem to end up with us in pairs, so I am listing this under ideas I want to add to our routine to more of as a family.
Music Video Nights
This suggestion is dangerous territory. Our teen is very opinionated about which music is deemed pure enough to pass across his ear canals. Also, if I had written this section only a few short years ago, it would have been called “Kitchen Dance Party”, but now head-bobbing shared appreciation is as crazy as it gets or we get the look I like to call “the skeptical curmudgeon”. Yes, we have entered that phase of parenting when we crack ourselves up, but where the teen is unamused. Our tastes have diverged a bit in recent years, but there is still plenty of material we can all appreciate for a mini-music-festival. Occasionally we even take it a few steps further and attend a concert together, and it will be fun to look for more music we might all like as the concert season kicks up.
Now, I don’t have experience with these, but the idea occurred to me as I was writing about audiobooks above. In the past I’ve listened to the BBC Radio miniseries adaptation of Niel Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which was a smash. Even a non-fiction podcast on a shared topic of interest might be good material for family-friendly listening.
I will update you if I find anything worthy in my search for family podcasts. In the meantime, do you listen to podcasts? Do you have teens? What kinds of activities do you do together?